Skyla Johnson, front woman of Victoria soul jazz and funk band Skyla J and the Vibes, will never forget the day she discovered yoga.
“I remember that day as clear as today. I walked into the library and there was this ’70s yoga book. It was black, white and orange with comic sans writing and this woman in spandex and nylons. Can you believe they wore nylons to practice yoga?” she laughs.
It would be the day that helped define the rest of her life, one dedicated to empowering and inspiring people with the ancient meditative practices.
“I would go in my room and just stretch and stretch and stretch and breath and stretch and breath and stretch — and so started my spiritual journey,” she says. “I love it. It’s the funnest part of my life. And the music is just a different expression for the same thing. I long to inspire and uplift people with my music as well.”
Johnson was born with crooked feet and legs. “My left femur was twisted all the way around and both of my feet were turning inwards. I was a millimetre away from being club foot,” she says.
Born prematurely to a young, single mother, Johnson spent a lot of time in the hospital in her early years. “It was hard for her, she was really young. Here’s the amazing thing about my mom: as young as she was, when the doctors would say anything negative about my feet or my legs, she would cover my ears, even though I was a baby. They would say ‘she’s not going to walk properly and she’s going to have psychological scars,’ and she was like ‘no, don’t you program my baby.’ I’m so glad she did that,” Johnson says.
At six months old, her ankles were locked in place and her legs were completely barred and casted, forcing her legs to straighten out. She remained in the casts until she was almost two.
As a young child, Johnson learned to keep her legs straight with the power of her mind and positive intentions. “My mom said, ‘you’re going to learn to keep your legs straight with your mind. To do this, for everyday that I don’t have to tell you to straighten your feet, you get a gold star. When you get seven gold stars in a row, you get a toy of your choice — within reason of course.’ So it took me a long time to collect the whole Strawberry Shortcake collection — but I did it and, from a very young age, I began to learn the affects that your thoughts and your intentions have on your body.”
By the time she was 11, Johnson dreamed of becoming a gymnast. “I couldn’t get through level-one gymnastics, even though I desperately wanted to. I just couldn’t stretch and move like the other kids could — but it’s OK because it led me here and it led me to be able to help people and understand how their bodies work and understand how to overcome limitations within yourself,” she says.
Johnson moved to Toronto as a teenager to follow her dreams of making a career in music, and found herself leading daily practices for her friends.
“I would practice every morning in the sunshine at the front of our studio,” she says. “It wasn’t long before my friends started to join me, and before I knew it, I was teaching classes. It was pretty natural. It kind of just fell into my lap, really.”
Now, Johnson has a yoga and body work studio in her ocean-front home on Dallas Road. She teaches one-on-one or small group classes in her studio and a couple group classes at other studios around town.
“When someone comes to see me, it’s like I know what they need to do for their body,” she says. “It’s like some part of them tells me what they need. I just call it intuition, it’s the next level of listening.” M