Jacob Hoffman our October Teacher of the Month! You can find him on Tuesday and Saturday evenings at our Inwood location and Friday mornings in the Bronx.
A little bit about Jacob:
Jacob Hoffman is a Chicago-bred, New York-based artist and educator. His love for the arts, yoga, and teaching has taken him into public school classrooms, Broadway theatres, studios, concert halls, and community spaces all over the world. He completed his 200 hour training (and is working toward his 500!) with Hathavidya under the guidance of Lisa Benner, Will Duprey, and Meghan Lastra.
Jacob believes yoga has the power to create quiet, lasting, and deeply felt change in how we move through our lives, treat others, and care for ourselves. His teaching style blends Hatha, Vinyasa, and meditative energies, with the core belief that yoga should be an approachable and fun challenge. He pushes his students to expand their awareness, look within themselves, dare to deepen their practice, and cultivate the three Cs (Constance, Compassion, Curiosity) both on and off the mat.
More information about Jacob can be found at jakebuddy.com
Well, hello Jacob! Tell me a bit about you to start us off…
Well, I was born and raised in Chicago, IL so I like to say I spent my first several years in John Hughesville where the Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off took place. I was there until I was about 9 or 10. I was a fish out of water…I was gay, jewish and loved theatre and every kid there played hockey. I used to say I didn’t find my sport until I found yoga. I made the joke that my center of gravity lay somewhere over Lake Michigan because I was just all limbs and no core, kind of just flailing around. I moved to the city proper when I was 10 — the school environment was kind of tough for me and I moved to a smaller environment that was wonderful for that. I had a amazing mom who saw that I loved theatre at a young age and helped me chase that bliss, so I started working professionally as an actor when I was about 7 and continued through high school. Then I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which brought me here. I was about 18 or 19 and never left. Upon graduating, I did the thing that a lot of people in the city do and leapt into the theatre scene. Even through college it was one of those things where I was very in touch with my emotional center and I had skills and talent, but the physical part felt foreign to me. About a year out of school I started saying, “I need to bulk up! I need to look different to get work!” And that eventually led me to the gym and high intensity interval training…but I kept coming back to yoga.
My mom used to be a dancer so she took me to a couple classes when I was a kid. I did great, because I was naturally very flexible. So I kept going back to yoga, because I felt like it might be something “easy” and then realized, “Oh no, this is actually quite challenging at times.” In the following years I found a flourishing and happy life in the arts and because the life of an actor is very up and down, the foundation I’ve provided for myself outside of theatre and acting work exists as a teacher. So I started teaching sign language to children, built up my practice, through acting I deepened my practice through different jobs I took outside of the city… I had all this time and would investigate one studio or another… and when I moved up to Inwood, I found Bread and Yoga. So now I’ve completed my 200-hour teacher training and I like to say I found my sport in yoga. It’s challenging in a way that feels fruitful and not overwhelming. I also work as a teaching artist for a non-profit in the Adirondacks in public schools, teach sign language and now I teach yoga.
So what’s this non-profit? Tell me more about that!
It’s called the Bridge Arts Ensemble. They are a privately funded group that targets schools in and around the Adirondack State Park. We go to 60 or 80 districts in that area of upstate New York. It’s a music program where we go into schools and bring supplementary enrichment music education for students K-12. It was founded by an anonymous gentleman who has chosen to give back to his community through this investment in education. So we go in teams of 6 and it’s all these insanely talented people who went to Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard — all people who are “giggers” by nature. We perform concerts and workshops with students. I’ve been doing it for 4 years and it’s amazing.
It’s also been inspiring, because it’s a part of the state that has very different realities than we have here. We often get the demographics of where we’re going and a lot of these kids need help getting fed. You know, we go to a lot of communities where the industry has left the town, so these are people who have voiced the impression that they’ve been left behind. So to go up there just a train ride away, I feel as though I live in this cultural epicenter and a liberal bubble, but people up there are voting for Donald Trump so to be able to work with these kids and use the universal language of music to connect people has been really empowering and wonderful.
Wow, that’s absolutely incredible! What a beautiful way to live life. You’re using your gifts for good. So how did you get plugged in with Bread and Yoga?
When I first started doing yoga I sought out places that were affordable, places like Yoga to the People, which I can’t speak highly enough of their mission because they want to make yoga accessible to everyone. So I’d go to suggested donation classes where I could get a taste and not break the bank. When I was working as an actor out of the city I would find places with like “2 weeks for 20 bucks” or whatever it was. So I did that for several years on and off. When I moved to Inwood, I researched and saw this studio close to my house and I thought, “Great!” I believe my first visit was a by donation class and I’m pretty confident Meghan was teaching it. I started coming as a student for donation classes after that and left pretty shortly after to do a job upstate and had all this time on my hands. While I was there, I started working at the yoga studio in Rochester and my practice kind of exploded. I was flexible and maybe a little cocky…and I got up to Rochester and their particular brand of yoga was very athletic and that’s not something I was very good at at the time and pardon my French, but I had my ass handed to me. I came back after spending two months going to yoga everyday, guns blazing and ready to go, and back to bread and yoga…and that’s where I felt as though I deepened my practice. I still barely hit the tip of the iceberg, you know, none if us has gone as deep as we could ever go, but I didn’t realize how much further I could go until I started taking class with Meghan and Lisa.
I was then at Bread and Yoga 3, 4, and 5 times a week taking donation classes and whenever I could afford it I would drop into one of the regular classes. I also taught sign language and realized the studio is also this really great community space… So I went to Marcela and said, “Hey, I’m a sign language teacher and I think what I could offer here would really enhance your community.” She and Meghan had a meeting and they were excited about it, so I was teaching and floating around the yoga world a bit. Then I realized we had a Karmi program, so I approached Meghan who was really sweet and came back and said, “Unfortunately, we’re all booked up at the moment, but we’ll let you know.” But then minutes later, like MAYBE a day later she wrote back, “Actually, do you want to start two weeks from now?” I thought, “Great–free yoga!” And so then I was a karmi for well over a year and it was in that process that I sort of I started getting to know everyone.
Really and truly, my relationship with the studio came from a place of asking and then Meghan and Marcela meeting me where I was.
Then Lisa did that thing that she’s known to do where she would say, “Teacher training’s coming up and some of us should do it,” (pointing at me) and she, you know, bore a hole in my soul. So I went to the info meeting and I said, “The timing I think could work, but on the finance side…I can’t afford it. But if there’s a way in the future, I’m there and I’ll save for it.” And then again, a week later, Meghan wrote me and said, “Hey, we’ve been thinking about this. We really think this is worth the investment on our end…Let’s do a scholarship program.” So I sat down with them and told them what I could afford and then I had other responsibilities (it was a work study), so that’s how the front shelves got redone and the kitchen got reorganized…
Honestly they’ve given me such a gift. Inwood represents such a place of community and home and Meghan and Marcela have time and time again come to meet me where I am. It was just this whirlwind, two summers ago…I was in teacher training Friday through Sunday and I was taking class everyday, I was eating great and waking up at 5am everyday and that’s when I really developed my personal practice and a new approach to meditation.
That is a lot of providence right there. And now you’re teaching with us!
Yeah, after teacher training there’s this period where you finish up all your homework assignments, finish a certain amount of daily practices of meditation and breath work, and then you sequence a bunch of classes and once that’s all done, you turn it in and get your insurance. And again, they seem to have a lot of faith in me, which I can’t really thank them enough for…Right around the time I finished all my work, they said, “You know, we want to get you teaching. We think this is good for you.” So I was quickly on the sub list and then started assisting Lisa. Then Marcela, as she is very want to do, was in the middle of an activity and she was like, “So I’m thinking perhaps I want to give you a class…” And I was like, fireworks on the inside and I’m trying to stay cool because she’s the coolest person in the world…”Yeah, yeah no big deal. What do you mean? Totally!” And so it just happened. I started subbing and then left for a show and when I came back I had three classes on the schedule, which was amazing. I got super lucky!
Yeah and your class is awesome. I was sitting in your class thinking about how poetic it is and the way you flow through it. Where does that poetic nature come from?
Well thank you very much! I will say that I was very scared to teach, but I’ve been teaching other things for a long time that involve coordination of body and voice, so when I teach sign language…that’s sort of one of these rubbing your head, patting your tummy and visa versa…So that’s a skill I knew I had. I learned to talk and do at the same time, very often in ways that didn’t feel as though they were necessarily complimentary. You know, I feel like I’ve stolen so much. I hear things Lisa and Meghan say things and of course I try to make them mine, but there are these images they speak to that feel so good. Also, spending that much time investigating postures in teacher training, I started to see things in a new way. It’s about practice and I take a lot of classes and know what works for me. The other thing I learned as I watched Meghan and Lisa is that It’s really about seeing the bodies in the room. You know, I’ll say, “Imagine you’ve nailed your finger pads on the ground in downward dog” and nobody’s biceps spin forward, noone’s fingertips grip the map. And then I go, “Okay, imagine you’re a little yogic tree frog and you have suction cups on your finger pads” and suddenly everyone pops into place!
Hahah. That’s hilarious, but very logical. It takes flexibility to work like that. So, shifting from this…How do you maintain balance living in New York and how has yoga help that process?
Oh man, in every way. When I was in my early 20s I began going to therapy. I was working with a cognitive behavioral therapist (she was really mindfulness based) and for years I didn’t know what we were doing. I had know idea what was happening, but some of the meditations I do in class I was given by my therapist years ago. So therapy helped me initially and yoga is an extension of that. When I began reading about yoga, I got this big smile on face because I understood it. It was something I had been doing for years. So much of modern psychiatry and psychology is rooted in principals that yogis have been practicing for thousands of years. So I have myself needed roots in the city, especially being in the arts…It’s such a transient lifestyle. I have found that I needed consistency. Therapy, for a while was that consistency and then meditation and then yoga travels with you, you can do it anywhere. It asks that you be right where you are and not seek to be anywhere else. In my classes I’ve been speaking about the idea of change and you can imagine it like a tornado or a hurricane. And you stand right in the center of that storm and watch everything spin around you, but you can kind of remain untouched. And I feel like that’s what yoga offered me. At this point, it’s almost second nature to where if I’m in a stressful situation my body knows to breathe. I can do that little checklist that accompanies the yogic practice.
…So the actual physical practice has come into my daily life very regularly, riding the train, encountering any number of people who have a lot to say or do. It really is the meditation, the physical work, the pranayama work. And I have to give Bread and Yoga props to because it’s a space that I’ve always had access to.
That’s really lovely. I love the embodiment of physical practice in the mind and daily life. What would you say is your favorite pose or posture?
Right now it would be popping up into a handstand, because I can’t do it yet. It scares the crap out of me! For a while it was headstand, because I couldn’t do it — it scared me. Yeah right now, inverting is where my anxiety grows, it’s where I stop breathing. Going upside down while I’m on my hands is a big endeavor and so I would say it’s my favorite because it brings up a lot of stuff for me.
Also, as much as going upside down scares me, arm balances have always been easy, so I love a good arm balance. It’s not supposed to be attached to our ego, but sometimes in yoga it feels good to do something you’re good at. So that’s always something fun. ? I love balancing and when my feet leave the ground.
I’m working through handstands, as well, and I feel like I’m nowhere near where I want to be. Brutal! But I love it. What do you hope for students to take away from your class uniquely?
I like to talk about what I call the three Cs. Compassion, Curiosity and Constance. I know my classes are strenuous and that they can be somewhat athletic or feel very vigorous. If people have taken Jackie and Lisa’s classes before, I like to think they’re a marriage of the two because they’re the teachers I take with mostly, so I would be foolish to imply that I hadn’t absorbed some of what they do and turned it into something I can bring. Students can expect a welcoming, fun, lighthearted environment and hopefully the buoyancy of the energy that’s cultivated makes space for you to try something new and maybe dive a little deeper.
I talk about the three Cs in the sense that I hope that people can develop curiosity in the sensations they’re experiencing, rather than pushing up against something that feels foreign and instead wonder. “Oh, my breath is accelerated. What must that mean? Let’s dive in further.” Compassion for where you are in this moment and no other — so to know that where you are today is where you are okay to be and to be kind to yourself. And then constance, which I think manifests itself in the breath. Hopefully these are the three things we can either play with individually, all three together, some combination, or maybe walk away having a more profound understanding.