If you've practiced yoga in the Vail Valley, you've probably heard of Julia Clarke -- first as the head of the yoga program at the Vail Athletic Club, and more recently, as co-owner of Edwards-based Mountain Soul Yoga with friend and business partner Georgina Baker. If you've been lucky enough to try a class with her, you've probably found that the soft-spoken yoga instructor strikes a balance of soulful, alpine-inspired flows with her years of teaching and training. So, how does she do it? We chatted with her about her journey to the valley, and as a soulful, mountain yogi.
What brought you to the Vail Valley?
I grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, and went to university in Edinburgh, and then I studied at the University of Central Missouri for a semester abroad. It was crazy. It was 2001, the internet hadn’t really taken off yet so I couldn't just Google, "Missouri" -- I think I looked at it in an encyclopedia. I had been to New York, and I had seen California in movies and on TV, but I think in Europe even today there’s just kind of a big grey area in the middle of the US, so Missouri was definitely a shock. But I came for a semester, and at the end of the semester I got a job at a radio station in Kansas City so I ended up just transferring. I worked in radio in Vermont and Boston and New York City until 2009, and then I moved to Vail because of Missouri; there’s a whole group of us that moved up here, and through my Missouri friends, I met my friend who was running the yoga program at the Vail Athletic Club at the time. I moved here on a Tuesday and started teaching at the VAC on a Friday, and then about two years later I took over the program, and I did that for about five years and then decided to go out on my own with Mountain Soul Yoga.
Where did your yoga journey begin?
I probably took my first yoga class when I was 10, so I grew up with it. My mum was into yoga and meditation and tai chi -- she was definitely ahead of the curve, so I had done it and had a home practice, and by the time I got to New York City there was so much yoga -- that’s actually where I ended up doing my teacher training.
How has your practice changed since you moved to the mountains?
I think about when I was practicing in New York City every morning at 6 a.m. before I got on the train to work, and I was practicing at by far the nicest studio in the city at the time. I remember thinking compared to everywhere else in New York it was so luxurious, but now thinking back, it was underground, so you would go down at least two flights of stairs to get to yoga, which when you live in a city isn’t actually so bad because you’re away from the hustle and bustle on the streets. Now that we’ve opened at Mountain Soul and we’re on the second floor with windows on almost every wall and mountain views, it’s like a light bulb went off where we said, “Isn’t this what we’re supposed to be doing in yoga? We’re elevating peoples’ energy and consciousness, shouldn’t we be bringing them up off the ground?" And at the same time, yoga means "union," so we’re not actually trying to make a sealed environment -- we’re trying to bring you closer to nature. In some ways you can source strength from the mountains when you’re in that tough pose, and I think it's easier to sustain what you've created on the yoga mat because you haven’t been experiencing it as a separate part of life.
How do you try and bring that sentiment to life at Mountain Soul Yoga?
I’ve done most of my training in New York City and Los Angeles, and a lot of what you’re learning and teaching there doesn’t necessarily translate here; yoga in New York can kind of reflect that New York lifestyle in a similar way that yoga in Los Angeles can kind of mirror life there. I think people seek out yoga here as a balance to what they do on the mountain. Yes, everybody’s strong, and yes, everybody can do a really hard class, but that’s not always what people need; if you hike everyday or skin everyday or ride your bike everyday, maybe the best thing is a more therapeutic form of yoga. What’s been really interesting at Mountain Soul is that by far our most popular class is the 4:30 "Root" class, which is a slow moving vinyasa class. People are really active and want to move at a slower pace, and within that slower pace I think mountain people are often so connected to their surroundings -- they’re not looking to check out. I don’t think people here come to yoga to get away from it all -- I think they’re already very in tune to their surroundings and they’re looking for that very connective experience, and that's something we try to capture in the space and our classes.
On that note ... what's "Happy Hour Yoga"?
It's our Friday evening class, and it's been amazing to watch because people want to stay for the social part. It doesn’t happen very often that someone comes for the class and then rushes out. We have two teachers and it’s a $10 drop-in, so it’s really affordable and it’s a great way for people to try the studio, and it's become this festive thing -- we’ll have homemade guacamole or beers, and if you have Friday night plans it's early enough that you can still go out. But, that’s one of the nice parts about yoga: it’s really about community.