After experiencing a romantic heartbreak while simultaneously confronting trauma from his past, yoga instructor Jose Portillo began down a path of destructive coping mechanisms. Then a good friend suggested finding a healthier outlet, and he agreed to accompany her to a yoga class. Today, Portillo is happy and healthy as an instructor at the very studio that he credits with saving him.
“About four years ago, a good friend of mine dragged me into Black Swan Yoga after hitting an all-time low,” Portillo recalls. “I was fresh out of my first real heartbreak and getting into some toxic, destructive behavior. She told me I really needed to do something to get me centered.”
“From coming into postures that are meant to lengthen our muscles, to sweating out all the toxins in the body, to connecting to your breath in ways that calm and nourish the nervous system, yoga offers a great deal of benefits.”
In addition to the pain he felt after his breakup, Portillo was grappling with his conservative religious upbringing. “I was somewhat freshly out, and still dealing with unresolved trauma from being raised Southern Baptist.”
He still recalls his amazement at the first Black Swan Yoga class he took. “I fully died and came back to life! I started making it a weekly date with [my friend], and eventually ventured out on my own and tried different classes. At that time, Black Swan had a program where you got a free membership if you volunteered at the front desk for a certain number of hours. That led me to connect with other teachers and the community, where I found a lot of healing.”
It’s this community that Portillo credits with getting him to where he is today. “In connecting with teachers, I found out how to become a teacher myself. I decided to train to become one just seven months after beginning my practice. It’s been one hell of a ride ever since, and I’m very happy to report that I’m in a really great place and I truly love what I do.”
Portillo, who also teaches spin classes at Life Time GreenStreet, offers some insights on stepping into the world of yoga. “Search for yoga studios close to you, and see what kind of style they have to offer. Classes can range from meditation and yin (which involves longer held stretch postures where you’re not sweating or moving too much) up to intense heated flow or power classes where you move to the cadence of your breath and work difficult postures such as arm balances and inversions. I definitely recommend trying a beginner class first. Not all studios call their beginner classes ‘beginner,’ so definitely ask what’s the most comparable.”
Portillo emphasizes that once you get into the flow of going to regular classes, the results are life-changing. “Several studies have shown that yoga offers tremendous physical and mental benefits,” he says. “From coming into postures that are meant to lengthen our muscles, to sweating out all the toxins in the body, to connecting to your breath in ways that calm and nourish the nervous system, yoga offers a great deal of benefits. I’ve had tons of students come to me because their physical therapists or psychiatrists have recommended they begin a yoga practice.”
For anyone nervous about trying yoga for the first time, the yogi explains that the range of abilities among his students is vast, so being inexperienced shouldn’t deter anyone from trying. “There is no being ‘bad’ at yoga,” he stresses. “As in any movement practice, [you begin by learning] what the postures look and feel like in the body. From there, [you develop] a deeper understanding and body awareness, and you begin to see results.”
Portillo empathizes with the perfectionists in his classes. “Personally, I can still not gracefully come into the splits, and I may never in this lifetime. I promise you, I will still live a good and happy life.”
Discovering yoga offered hope and restoration to Portillo, and he’s inspired to offer the same gifts to his students. “There was a lot of healing that took place in my body and soul [as I dealt with] things that still weighed me down,” he explains. “I was able to find a community of like-minded individuals who supported each other’s growth and honored all walks of life. I’ve been able to truly find my voice, my sense of purpose, and a lot of light in all of this. I like to end my classes with this mantra that I created, which sums up what the practice of yoga means to me: ‘May you be committed to love brilliantly and to bask in the joys of every relationship you find yourself in. But above all, be committed to fully express and appreciate exactly who you are so you may in turn share that magic with the rest of the world.’”
Keep up with Jose Portillo on Instagram @all.in.jose.
This article appears in the January 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.