Jacoby Ballard is a yoga and Buddhism teacher known for his playfulness, heart-opening, and commitment to change from the inside out.
Jacoby has taught yoga since 1999 in settings ranging from art galleries, gyms, homeless shelters, nonprofit offices, social justice conferences, and LGBT Centers. His classes integrate intricate and creative sequences that keep you on your toes with the age-old wisdom of Buddhism and yogic philosophy.
Jacoby has a specific interest in applying the teachings of yoga for the liberation of all beings, inside and out, which means being in intimacy, alliance, and solidarity with those not often encountered in the yoga classroom: dis/abled people, those with abundant bodies, people of color, undocumented immigrants, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, and low-income people. Jacoby is also interested in the ways that the trauma of oppression occupies the body, and uses the tools of plants and yoga to heal. He co-founded Third Root Community Health Center in 2008 with the expressed interest of offering the tools of yoga, massage, acupuncture, and herbal medicine to people of all types and stripes at a sliding scale. Jacoby works to create space for all of these communities to benefit from yoga in a resonant setting,
For 9 years, Jacoby has taught Queer and Trans Yoga, a specific class designed for the LGBT Community in New York. He has taken this on the road in the last 4 years, teaching Queer and Trans Yoga workshops in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Montpelier, Minneapolis, Oakland, Seattle, Denver, and Aspen. It has been a blessing to watch weekly Q&T Yoga classes sprout up in some of these cities, and some of the Q&T students become teachers themselves. Recently Jacoby has begun teaching Yoga for Survivors and Yoga for Recovery, out of recognition of his own family history and a commitment to end the cycles of violence through offering healing to these communities.
At the same KYTA Conference in 2011, Jacoby met Rob Schware, the President of the Board of the Yoga Service Council and a co-founder of the Give Back Yoga Foundation. Jacoby and Rob connected regarding their knowledge and experience of yoga service projects’ trainings, and appreciated each of their yoga paths coming from different directions and intersecting at that moment. In 2014, Jacoby was welcomed onto the Advisory Board of the Yoga Service Council, an organization that provides an annual conference showcasing the work of yoga service projects, developing community discussions about social justice, power, and privilege, and developing a national network of yogi changemakers.
In 2014, Jacoby was hired by Third Root’s non-profit arm, the Third Root Education Exchange (TREE), and later that year left Third Root as a member/owner, following his Beloved in her academic career that carried her out of Brooklyn. Jacoby stayed on as staff of TREE, developing a Diversity Training for Yoga Teachers with colleagues Lezlie Frye, Lisa Garrett, Meredith Gray, and Yashna Padamsee which gives yoga teachers training, language, and tools around difference and awareness of power dynamics in the yoga classroom. Jacoby is delighted to now have a facilitator staff of 15 engaging and inspiring leaders who are experienced yoga teachers, social justice workers, and skilled facilitators. TREE is booking Diversity Trainings around the country.
Growing up in a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Jacoby grew up with a great sense of reverence for the earth and an intimacy with community. Jacoby was very close to his father, who died just before he turned 7 years old; the death of his father was the birth of his relationship with spirit. Raised by a strong and fierce single-mother from that point forward, Jacoby always knew he was cared for and loved, and was taught principles of fairness, integrity, and community involvement.
Jacoby is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, incest, and sexual orientation-based bullying in high school. These early experiences of trauma inform his commitment to healing, love, and justice and practices of liberation in the body and opening of the heart. Although he wouldn’t necessarily choose these experiences to happen, they have informed how he shows up in the world, broadened his scope of compassion, and directed his life purpose toward personal and collective healing, and for that, he is grateful.
Jacoby Ballard has been part of struggles for justice since he was 18 years old, participating in both broad and specific movements in movements for justice in the realms of globalization, youth, child abuse, food, gender, queerness, and health. In college, Jacoby’s activism was transformed by visiting Columbian professor Hector Mondragon, an advocate for the unions and indigenous of his own country, and a survivor of torture by graduates of the Georgia-based military school, School of the Americas.
Jacoby worked for the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) for two years, where he learned the 25-year old organization’s tried and true strategies and practices of solidarity. Jacoby co-founded RadHerb in 2006, an organization of herbalists working to address issues in health and healing that more mainstream herbalism was not. Jacoby is a community garden trainer for Just Food, an organization in New York that supports community gardens, farmer’s markets, and other local food initiatives with a social justice lens. Jacoby has participated in the Challenging Male Supremacy Project, an organization engaging men in social justice work around issues of misogyny and sexism through popular education and somatics practices.
Since coming out as transgendered in 2004, Jacoby has always strived to have his work benefit the trans community. He has taught annually at the Philadelphia Transgender Health Conference, trained organizations and health practitioners in alliance with the queer and trans community, and developed specific yoga classes and herbal protocols for his community. Jacoby has worked with various colleges and universities around queer and trans* justice, health, and healing over the past ten years, knowing that these students will provide future solutions to our world’s biggest problems and greatest challenges.
In 2008, Jacoby co-founded Third Root Community Health Center with 6 other health practitioners who share ownership as a worker-owned cooperative, to be a center of health and healing for everyone, especially those who have not traditionally accessed quality healthcare or healing of any kind. Third Root provides acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine, yoga, and health workshops under a mission of collaboration, access, and empowerment and works to be the change that its practitioners want to see in healthcare overall. Through Third Root, Jacoby has become embedded in national networks for Transformative and Health and Healing Justice, which acknowledge the necessary role of healing in the work of social justice, while bringing social justice values to healing modalities. He has offered consulting to new organizations and clinics wanting to build upon the Third Root model, and is gratified that Third Root is amongst dozens of such organizations in the country.
In 2014, Third Root launched a non-profit arm, the Third Root Education Exchange, hiring Jacoby as its first staff person. The aim of TREE is to continue the healing justice work of Third Root and allowing Third Root to focus on the provision of holistic healing modalities. Jacoby developed a Diversity Training for Yoga Teachers with colleagues Lezlie Frye, Lisa Garrett, Meredith Gray, and Yashna Padamsee which gives yoga teachers training, language, and tools around difference and awareness of power dynamics in the yoga classroom. Jacoby is delighted to now have a facilitator staff of 15 engaging and inspiring leaders who are experienced yoga teachers, social justice workers, and skilled facilitators. TREE is booking Diversity Trainings around the country, with the immediate vision of reducing harm perpetuated on marginalized communities by yoga teachers in their classrooms and with the longterm goal of every yoga teacher being a social changemaker, modeling and teaching love and justice for all.
Jacoby is also networked with grassroots social justice organizations around the country who work on housing justice, domestic workers’ rights, police brutality, trans* justice, anti-racism work in white communities, immigrant justice, and environmental justice. These organizations and networks continue to remind and propel him toward external manifestations of liberation and unity.
In September 2014, the Yoga Journal Estes Park Conference invited Jacoby to participate in a panel conversation called The Practice of Leadership: Power, Privilege & Practice. You can listen to the conversation here.
Jacoby’s first yoga and Zen Buddhism teacher was a 70-year-old woman named Lillian McMullen, who had herself been introduced to yoga late in life, and it had completely transformed her life. Jacoby came to yoga as a jock who was accustomed to pushing his body to its limits, and needed to fulfill a college wellness credit; Lillian taught slow, thoughtful classes, and introduced him to organic food and Zen Buddhism. Needless to say, Lillian cracked Jacoby open, and he continued to study Zen Buddhism with Lillian, being the only college student to join an 8am Sunday sit. Jacoby also studied yoga intensively while studying abroad in Nepal for 5 months. His teacher Shannon Harriman integrated the teachings of yoga with the experiences of the young Americans on the trip, which included addiction, suicide, unexamined sexual violence, eating disorders, and the death of family members. Shannon made the age-old teachings relevant and helpful in these circumstances of great confusion and pain, and which provided the catalyst for Jacoby connecting his activism with yoga.
After teaching yoga in college, Jacoby attended the first 200-hour teacher training of Kashi Atlanta Ashram, taught by Jaya Devi Bhagavati and her guru Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. Ma Jaya and Jaya Devi had been outspoken advocates for the gay community throughout the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the satsang was largely gay and lesbian. Having this incredible support through the 4-month teacher training, Jacoby came out as transgendered in 2004, with incredible support from Jaya Devi and Ma. Inspired to keep learning and exploring the depths of yoga, Jacoby began a 500-hour teacher training at Kripalu Center in Lenox, Massachussetts, studying with Devarshi Steven Hartman, Jurian Hughes, Danny Arguetty, Sudha Lundeen, and Jovinna Chan. At Kripalu, Jacoby became inspired to further explore the use of yoga to specific populations-from those in recovery from cancer to those with abundant bodies.
Jacoby met Seane Corn at a Kripalu Yoga Teacher’s Conference in 2011, where Seane was the keynote speaker. Jacoby had previously heard of Off the Mat, Into the World, and had his doubts and critique of their work. He asked Seane every down and dirty question that he had, both in the formal Q and A, and afterward. Seane was the first yoga teacher to recognize the ways in which homophobia and transphobia impacted Jacoby’s experience at trainings, classes, and retreats, and Jacoby was intrigued. In 2012 Jacoby participated in Off the Mat’s Leadership and Advanced Leadership trainings, and now offers OTM’s “Yoga In Action” trainings at Third Root in partnership with fellow yoga teacher and OTM activist L.Booker. Jacoby continues to work with Off the Mat in expanding to involve teachers and practitioners of greater diversity.
Jacoby has also attended trainings through Street Yoga, the Lineage Project, and Yoga for 12-Step Recovery and is interested in any organization that teaches about offering yoga outside the expected studio setting or expanding access to the ancient transformative practices of yoga. He is grateful to now have a national sangha of yogis invested in social change who continue to teach and inspire his practice and teaching.
Growing up in a small town, Jacoby was lucky to have outstanding physicians and healthcare. That bubble was burst when Jacoby left for college and encountered discriminatory and ineffective care. Jacoby became interested in herbal medicine in college, when experiences at the college health center led him to distruct the system of allopathic medicine entirely. He first learned from the grandmothers of the Tajamulco valley of Guatemala, and then studied formally at the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine in 2004. Jacoby went on to co-found RadHerb: Northeast Community Herbal Convergence in 2006 with other radical herbalists who wanted to learn about and address the grave health disparities happening in activist communities, communities of color, low-income communities, and the queer and trans community. From 2007-2008 Jacoby studied with Robin Rose Bennett in the Wise Woman tradition of herbal medicine. In 2011, seeking tools of diagnosis and energetics, Jacoby began to study Ayurveda through the Dinacharya School of Ayurveda in New York. Jacoby continues to study Ayurveda, and knows that will be a lifelong practice.
Jacoby began teaching herbal workshops to his community in New York in collaboration with the Rock Dove Network, which provided the groundwork to be able to form a 3-level Herbal Medicine School at Third Root Community Health Center with an initial collaboration with Guyanan herbalist Karen Rose. Third Root’s herbal program integrates social justice in its curriculum, and teaches material rarely offered at other herb schools in the country. Now in its fifth year, Third Root has graduated over 150 basic-level students and 12 Advanced-level students who are able to employ the skills and tools of botanical medicine toward the health of their own communities in New York. This program continues to be offered at Third Root since Jacoby’s departure from the coop by teachers Angela Ueckerman and Stephen Switzer.
Jacoby’s greatest teachers of herbal medicine, though, have been his clients and students.