If you’ve ever been to a yoga class hosted by Jessica McReynolds of Karma Yoga Denton, then you know to expect many laughs, moments of deep connection with friends and a great workout.
Crossing paths with McReynolds is like catching up with an old friend or meeting someone new and feeling an instant, deep emotional connection to them. That’s what McReynolds strives for, anyway.
McReynolds, a mother of two, usually sports a very laid-back style, opting for comfort and ease over anything too fussy. On a Friday afternoon at Rusty Taco, she wore a long black winter coat, black, textured leggings and a colorful scarf. Her long, blonde hair flowed down her back.
Her personal story, much like her style, is also very colorful and interesting.
Many people know of McReynolds from her ties to Karma Yoga. The business was started by her and her business partner Tiffany Johnson in March 2015. Karma Yoga seeks to give college students and other yogi’s the opportunity to participate in yoga at the cost of a $5 donation.
At the time that the opportunity was presented to her by Johnson, she was still grieving the loss of her late husband and had gone from a $500,000 salary to almost nothing. Although money was a significant driving factor, McReynolds had already cultivated a love for yoga and thought the plan of starting Karma Yoga to be genius.
At any rate, she knew that she needed to act quickly, despite the circumstances, and hasn’t regretted it since.
McReynolds grew up in Louisiana and started taking interest in playing the banjo at 8 years old, one of her many passions.
From there, she found herself living in Syracuse, New York for a time and then moved to Denton about 20 years ago at the age of 19.
“I play banjo and sub for a lot of bands,” McReynolds said. “A lot of my family is from the Cajun country and so it was a family thing.”
Looking back on her arrival here so long ago, McReynolds is still shocked at how different the community and atmosphere was then, compared to its current state today.
“The community here is unbelievable,” McReynolds said. “Even with it being a college town and being the age that I am, I am still able to have these amazing friends of all different ages.”
Many of the people she met in Denton have made some of the biggest impacts on her life.
Not too long after moving to town, McReynolds walked into Zebra’s Head and met its then-owner, a man by the name of Dennis. The two immediately hit it off and began dating. McReynolds was 11 years younger than Dennis, who would later become her husband.
She also had a friend living in Denton who was, at the time, preparing for an arranged marriage in India. Upon arriving in India for the wedding, she decided to explore the country. McReynolds quickly took notice of yoga in the country and how it was so different than western forms of yoga.
“It wasn’t as much about the physical as it was about spiritual,” McReynolds said. “They didn’t even have yoga mats. It was done on either a little rug or even out in the dirt. They would wear this white, loose-fitting clothing that we just don’t have here in the west.”
During her time there, she was able to practice yoga under many different teachers. Some, she found, were very serious and spiritual in their approach, while others encouraged laughter and ease. She found that she preferred the ladder and carried it with her back to the States, incorporating it into her own classes.
“Laughter can be a great mediation,” McReynolds said. “It was definitely eye-awakening.”
One day, while roaming the streets of India, she was stopped by a shaman in the middle of the road. He warned her of hard times that she would soon be facing, but McReynolds did not easily heed his message.
“He told me that I was going to go through something really big and that I needed to go ahead and go to the doctor and get checked out,” McReynolds said. “I told him that he had no idea who I was and that he didn’t know what he was talking about, but sure enough when I got home, it wasn’t much longer that I found out that I was pregnant, had my son and then found out just how bad it was.”
Prior to this occurrence, McReynolds had been noticing that her energy levels were extremely low. She had also been consistently working out and noticed that her stomach wasn’t flattening. Despite the signs that her body was giving her, McReynolds was in denial about the condition of her health.
After the birth of her son through c-section, she was officially diagnosed with liver cancer.
“Cancer is huge in my family,” McReynolds said. “Living in Louisiana, there are all of these surrounding factories that run into the bayou. In fact, they have a thing in Louisiana called Cancer Valley.”
McReynolds quickly found that the traditional route of medicine was not a match for her and she opted for a smaller dosage of traditional medication and relied more on alternative means of healing. In time, her cancer left, but she is still cautious.
“I still have to be careful and get checked,” McReynolds said. “Sometimes I still get scared and wonder what the test results will be or if they will turn out bad.”
While the worst of her illness was behind her and the storm of McReynolds’ cancer had passed, tragedy struck again one morning while she and her husband prepared the kids for school.
Dennis had begun to struggle with severe headaches and despite being on medication, hadn’t experienced relief.
“He went to the bathroom and I heard him hit the wall,” McReynolds said. “I went in and he was on the floor.”
Dennis had had an aneurysm.
McReynolds was followed to the bathroom by her 8-year-old son, but due to shock, she was unable to dial 9-1-1. Frantically trying to resuscitate her husband, she handed the phone to her son to call for help. Despite her efforts, McReynolds was unable to revive him.
He was only 45 years old.
Time has passed since her struggles. Now approaching her 40th birthday in December, McReynolds finds herself going through a period of reflection. With the loss of her husband just over three years ago and raising two kids as a single parent, she worries, as most of us do, about how she is performing in certain aspects of her life.
McReynolds continues to push on for herself, her children and her late husband. To this day, she is grateful for having taken the chance on Karma Yoga and pursuing her healing journey.
“My husband would always tell me that everything would be fine and to do what I wanted because I would find myself,” McReynolds said. “He was always very positive in that way.”
Featured Image: Jessica McReynolds poses for a portrait before a class at Barnyard on Bell. Kady Shirley