Jonah Kest was born into a yoga legacy. His father is vinyasa yoga pioneer Jonny Kest and his mother, Milla Kest, was one of the first yoga business owners in the Midwest. Jonah’s exposure to yoga started at age three, and as he grew up, he continued to steep in the importance of a daily yoga practice and evening meditation.
With early interests including basketball, boxing, and track, it became clear to Jonah that flexibility and breath-work were key components and complements to strength training. At seventeen, Jonah trained in ashtanga yoga under his father with the mission to become a teacher himself. The spark of his passion needed no flaming as his drive to teach was apparent. Understanding and utilizing the mind-body connection influenced his life, but sharing the practice with others profoundly changed it.
Today, Jonah travels the world teaching ashtanga/vinyasa yoga with a grace and intensity beloved by his students. Impermanence, compassion, and humility are just some of the elements that Jonah seamlessly weaves through each healing practice.
Jonah shared his light with Face the Current and discussed the joys of teaching, the reasons he believes yoga is beneficial to everyone, the impact and importance of his plant-based diet, and his favorite memories (so far!) of sharing his practice around the world.
Sasha Frate: You were born into a family of yogis with your father Jonny Kest deemed “the godfather of vinyasa” and your uncle a “pioneer” in power vinyasa. How have their practices influenced your practice and teaching, and how are you doing things differently?
Jonah Kest: Thank you for your kind words. I am certainly grateful to have been born into this lineage of yoga teachers. It’s clear to me now that as a child, I didn’t necessarily do what my parents told me to do, but I did observe and do what they did. Being exposed to a daily ritual of yoga and meditation as commonplace as eating breakfast or brushing my teeth was my day-to-day! I had no idea that the practices I dragged myself through as a kid would amount to this global experience that I am now a part of!
What has influenced me the most, truly, above all other teachings was the humility of the practice that my father passed down. I remember him saying that there is no hierarchy between teacher and student—everyone we meet is on the same path. We are all one. He taught that and he lives that to this moment. This is something I hold onto as I look into the eyes of the students I am blessed to work with around the globe.
Now, we have this glorious mechanism that is social media! These tools were not available to my father when he was my age first starting out. It is such an incredibly powerful time to live and teach connection. We have never been more easily connected, but we have also never been sicker and lonelier at the very same time. With the touch of a button I can display my photography, advertise for upcoming trainings, and reach the community at large with provocative messages that they can then in turn interact with! It still blows my mind. The challenge is to merge the fantasy of this otherworldly lifestyle with certainty and compassion; realness. The best moments are when we really, actually get to touch.
SF: Yoga aside, you established a nightly routine with your siblings growing up that included a gratitude and meditation circle. How did this routine play into and impact your yoga practice, teaching, and daily life as an adult?
JK: Yes! As mentioned above these moments felt so “normal” to me, and they were! We would all sit together and go around the circle and be given a moment to speak about what we were most grateful for. As a kid, I chose more superficial things like my new shoes or anything that I got that day. As the years went by—and I noticed this in my brothers and sister as well—we naturally started to recognize the moments of gratitude more in what we were giving. How we could be of service? We even found ourselves reciting a moment of gratitude for someone else’s greatness! Ah, sympathetic joy!
As a teacher, I now see that I was being shown two very important lessons on love:
- The greatest joy comes from service.
- When you give someone the space to be listened to (and witness this) they will ultimately uncover the goodness that lies within the heart.
SF: Some of our greatest wisdom and lessons don’t always come from schoolbooks and the classroom. You left college to pursue yoga. What have been your greatest lessons from yoga as 1) a student, 2) a teacher, and 3) a lifestyle that has taken you around the world?
JK: As a student: never stop being the student. Everyone we meet is a teacher; every being, human and non-human.
As a teacher: I will fail. I must start again.
As a world traveler: my dad was right; we are all the same.
SF: What style(s) of yoga do you teach and why do you prefer these styles?
JK: I teach ashtanga/vinyasa flow. This style is breath-centered and life is breath. It works both as a physical practice and a meditation. As long as we are alive, we always have the flow of our breath so the practice can be as simple or complex as we need in order to reach us on a deeper level. Vinyasa means flow or to link breath and movement in a special way. It has just felt very intuitive in my own body and I watch so many people be instantly changed by its magic!
SF: What are your top three favorite poses?
JK: Padmasana, padmasana, and padmasana, because it’s without limits. Everything else has a peak, but this one keeps me on my toes.
SF: What are the primary reasons you recommend the implementation of a regular yoga practice into people’s lives?
JK: When you consciously connect with your breath every day, your nervous system changes. We are then no longer bound by the lies that our minds tell us. The energy is infinite and this is why we need to practice every day.
SF: What do you suggest for taking a yoga practice to the next level for 1) beginner students, and 2) advanced students?
JK: Keep going back each day, especially if you don’t feel like it. Traditionally, ashtanga yoga was practiced for five days, on the sixth day you rested, and on the seventh you offered self-massage. I like to think that with each practice we are beginning fresh. It has always served me to stay away from the “advanced” mentality because I need to see that there is always so much work to do to stay motivated!
SF: Why did you choose to opt for a plant-based diet, and how does this impact or enhance your performance as an athlete?
JK: I was raised vegetarian and became vegan at ten years old with my family.
Now, modern research is telling us that a plant-based lifestyle is leading the way for high performance athletes! My diet has always been heart-centered and I am so grateful for this. Eating plants has made me lighter, stronger, and gives me quick recovery time. It is what we all need to do for the animals and the planet.
SF: What took your yoga teaching and practice global, and what have been some of your favorite memories in sharing the yoga experience with local cultures abroad?
JK: Instagram and my love for creating has really helped me to share my art globally. I feel honored to be able to carry the torch for my father and share his style all over the world. Last year I taught in over fifteen countries and I have learned so much in doing so. One of my favorite memories was at a yoga ashram for boys in India. Those boys were all my teachers. It was such an incredible time in my life. I saw myself in each of them and I think they saw themselves in me!
SF: How has your yoga practice helped you learn to create your reality?
JK: Law of attraction is real! If you are properly practicing yoga, it changes your vibration and your vibration is where the law of attraction begins. Through breath and posture I’ve been able to narrow my focus on what really matters and create my reality one hundred percent.
SF: Do you cross-train with any other types of sports or fitness? Do you recommend mixing up yoga with specific types of cross-training?
JK: I grew up as an athlete, so sports have always been a part of my reality. I’d almost flip that question and say yoga has been the catalyst for me to still play other sports without getting injured and to maximize recovery. Personally, however, I swim in the ocean, rock climb, and do calisthenics like pull-ups and push-ups as well. I love the Prana these exercises give my body!
SF: You’ve said: “The single most important commitment I’ve made in my business and on the path of yoga is to my mentor. I have promised to never stop learning, to seek feedback within any opportunity I am given, to objectively watch myself grow and fail, and to never miss a day of practice.” How do you see the role of a mentor or coach in guiding and enhancing one’s fitness/sport routine compared with going it solo?
JK: My father has built his teaching on feedback and every teacher he trains leaves with a better understanding of how this loop helps us reach our ultimate potential. I never leave feedback out of any of my relationships.
SF: Do you have a mantra or motto that motivates you to stay committed to your practice?
JK: “Start again.” These were the words I heard over and over again when I sat my ten Vipassana mediation sit. Every moment is an opportunity to start again, no matter what has happened in the past.