Groove Interview: Jess Pierno

Few things rev me up more than hearing stories of others making a leap to design a life worth loving. As I’ve often said about my own decision to leave a stable job at the Pentagon for an uncertain future with Groove, it’s an intoxicating blend of exhilaration and terror. And it takes balls. Which is why I’m fascinated with women who take the leap.

Curious about how others made their moves, I reached out to Jess PIerno, bureaucrat by day and yogapreneur by night, to learn more about what motivated her to get her groove back.  Jess, together with her business partner Amy Rizzotto, will be cutting the ribbon on Yoga Heights in Washington, DC next month (and they’re offering several SWEET DEALS for new memberships until their Grand Opening!). Here's my interview with Jess:

So, tell me about Yoga Heights. What is it? And more importantly, WHY is it?

Yoga Heights is…my adventure. For me personally, it’s a way of creating a new path of excitement. And it’s way more than a yoga studio. Yoga Heights is a wellness center that creates balanced wellness for every body, at every level and every budget. We picked each one of those words so specifically.  Balance has always been a big thing for me. Between all the different directions we get pulled in every single day, yoga has always been that thing that keeps me together.

Was there a particular moment when you realized you were all in?

I had taken a yoga teacher training course, and realized, I was good at this. I had something to offer. I also realized that teaching probably wasn’t going to be enough for me. I wanted to be a leader, to create something. When I was young, my mom used to call me “The Instigator” because I was always starting projects and initiating things.

In coaching, we would call “The Instigator” part of your “crew,” a dimension of your authentic self that serves certain purposes in your life. It’s great to be able to tap into that as you build your business.

There was another moment that came the day I wrote the business plan. It was like a light bulb went off. The numbers work! I realized I could do this and not have to eat ramen every day. Before the business plan, everything was theoretical.

That’s so cool. It sounds like there was a perfect storm of intuition on the one hand – this sense that you had something to offer – and, on the other hand, a more analytical, hard-nosed case that you built for yourself.

Definitely. And you know what? I learned that it doesn’t take a grand plan to realize a vision. It’s just the little things that make something bigger. As soon as I figure out that the numbers worked, it was like I tipped the first domino over in this long chain of dominoes.

So, yogapreneur by night, Department of Defense (DoD) bureaucrat by day. Tell us about the person you are when you’re not wearing yoga pants.

Well, I’m a civil servant in the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel (DPMO) office. The office works to recover the remains of unaccounted for service members from past conflicts. When I joined the DoD, I saw an opportunity to have a positive impact and support the country to do good stuff in the world. Every time we bring a service member home to be laid to rest, the family gets closure and we honor their service.

This is what I love about Washington. You never know what’s hiding behind that conservative navy blue suit! From the YH website, it looks like you’re building a strong community service component into your strategy.

Oh yeah, I have big ideas about YH giving back to the community! Basically, YH is guided by nonprofit principles but operates like a business. So, here are the two things we’re doing:

We’re making the space available for fundraisers and are open to creatively thinking through the best ways to raise funds for organizations. Then there’s the Karma Pass program where people can apply to receive discounts on the cost of yoga classes. More and more, I hear that just giving something away for free doesn't create the same sense of commitment or meaning. So we’re funding someone’s commitment to practice yoga.

A big goal of YH is to be a part of our community, which is at the crossroads of Petworth, Columbia Heights and Park View. We’re offering classes that appeal to the diversity in our neighborhood – classes for beginners, for athletes. We’re even planning to offer classes in Spanish. Finding Spanish-speaking teachers is a big priority for me. It’s like all the work being done on little girls seeing grown women as leaders or scientists. They need to see themselves in the future. It’s the same concept. If all you see are white women in yoga pants all the time, you’re going to think that yoga is for white women in yoga pants…and it’s NOT!

So, Jess, here’s the last question. And you’ll have to forgive me, but I have to ask: What kind of yoga music do you groove to?

Let’s see…I love Thievery Corporation (there’s a little DC shout-out!) and Gotan Project. I love doing classes to Bob Marley; the music is whimsical, happy and calming at the same time.

I also use lots of music with lyrics in other languages; that way, the words are less of a distraction during our practice. Lots of music in Portuguese. I lived in Brazil as an exchange student in high school, and even though I was from a small town in Wisconsin, the dancing and percussive music of Salvador de Bahia helped me feel at home.

Music is so essential to getting back into a groove, isn’t it? I love it when we can connect different parts of ourselves that bring us joy or fulfillment…and then use them to create something awesome.

Thanks, Jess. And best of luck with Yoga Heights!

If you’d like to check out some of Jess’s favorite tracks, click on the image of Jess below: