Home base: Santa Cruz, CA
Q: How did you meet Kaliji and start practicing TriYoga?
A: I met Kaliji when I first moved back to my home town, Santa Cruz, in 1985 but it was not until 1987, when I came to a partner yoga class led by Kaliji that things really changed for me. Kaliji asked Tom (then known as Tom) to be my partner. This began a fifteen year relationship that took me on many adventures and shaped, to a high degree, who I am today. Tom encouraged me with my cooking and cooking school and the writing of my first two books. Being with ATom also brought me closer to Kaliji as ATom was a very dear friend of Kaliji’s. We traveled with Kaliji to India three times, Russia and many parts of the US.
Q: When you came to your first TriYoga class with Kaliji, what was it about Kaliji that made you come again and again?
A: Oh… I’d have to say Kaliji’s vitality and energy. She is phenomenal. And, I love how personable Kaliji is. And TriYoga… I just could not get enough of it. I loved TriYoga and wanted to do it all the time. Kaliji’s approach to yoga was inspiring. I also saw how my body was changing and I loved the flexibility and strength it gave me.
Q: Were you looking for a Teacher when you met Kaliji?
A: I was always looking for teachers. So it was no surprise that I found Kaliji. I have had many teachers through out my life but I feel Kaliji was on a different level. I feel she was my first spiritual teacher. She gave me life long practices that I use and feel I will use for the rest of my life. Yoga Flow, Prana Vidya, Mantra and my diet style… vegan and now raw vegan.
Q: How was Kaliji different from your other teachers?
A: Kaliji offers a well rounded program. My teachers before Kaliji would teach one or two aspects. I love that Kaliji’s teachings includes diet as I have found my diet to be a key factor in my health, as well as emotional health, flexibility and strength.
Q: Did you become a TriYoga teacher soon after you met Kaliji?
A: No, it took me a long time (laughs). I guess I was concentrated more on the food part. I did take many teacher’s trainings over the years but did not go for my certificate until 2002. At that time I was living in Malibu and running a guesthouse that served the TriYoga community. Kaliji certified me in basics. A year or so later I was certified in Level 1 in Santa Cruz by Nandi (Kim).
Q: Speaking about cooking and food, it looks like Kaliji influenced your approach to cooking. Did Kaliji also influence your diet? Were you vegan when you met her?
A: No, I was not vegan. I was vegetarian since the early 1970s with one short exception. It was about a year into my relationship with ATom that we made the leap into a pure vegan diet. This decision was strongly influenced by Kaliji. She was the one who made me realize how eating dairy is harming the animals. It is also well known that dairy is one of the top foods people are allergic to. It was in 1988 on a thousand mile bike ride, from Portland, Oregon to the Golden Gate Bridge, that ATom and I bought a Haagen Daze ice cream. We looked at each other and said, “This is our last dairy.â€ After this ice cream we embraced the vegan diet and lifestyle.
Q: Did Kaliji influence your outlook on the world and life? Your personality?
A: Majorly. I was very scattered, very much in my head, with lots of thoughts. I had no purpose, but constantly prayed to be in my purpose. Kaliji presented me with many opportunities and introduced me to key people who opened many doors for me. Kaliji was responsible for me getting my first big cooking job, The Unity in Yoga Conference with more than four hundred participants. At this conference, Kaliji presented her Devi Dance publicly for the first time. And, it was at this conference that I came out with my first cookbooklet and where John Robbins, who Kaliji introduced me to, announced to his audience, â€œJia doesnâ€™t know it yet, but she will be writing my next book with me.â€Â And I did. John is the author of Diet for a New America. Kaliji also introduced me to Rama Vernon who asked me to be the chef for two Women of Vision Conferences. These were large conferences with over 500 women in attendance at the one held at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
Q: Obviously, you were cooking all your life but it sounds like, being around Kaliji you discovered cooking is your passion. Was it a flash of realization or a gradual understanding?
A: I would say gradual but quick gradual (laughs). It all started with hosting dinner parties for Kaliji and her students in our home, often with as many as sixty guests. Then one of Kaliji’s students, Jasmine, asked me to teach some cooking classes. I accepted the challenge and held three classes in our home. Then a local vegan/raw foods restaurant asked me to teach at their restaurant and did so for the next two years. Then ATom and I remodeled our kitchen and turned it into a teaching kitchen. After meeting Kaliji, it was a magic carpet ride, as I tapped into the divine flow where one event led to another.
Q: How did you create recipes for your classes?
A: I started with zero recipes (laughs). I would plan a series of six classes with creative titles like; More Than Just Pizza, Mexican Fiesta of Flavors, Healthy Fast Food and more. The week before each class I would focus on the class theme for that week. I would look through recipe books for traditional recipes for pizza or whatever it was I was planning to teach and would come up with amazing vegan alternatives. This was my gift. I could make vegan food with tastes and textures that are familiar and fulfilling. I had a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and never doubted I could do it.
Q: How do you go about developing recipes today?
A: I am always evolving, so my approach is very different then when I first started teaching. Today I am 80-90% raw vegan. I eat mostly salads with lots of sprouts, blended salads, and most days, I have a berry meal for their antioxidant powder. I also add super foods, like green powders, berry powders, maca, chia and hemp seeds. These foods are all in my recent book, Celebrate Life! I now encourage people to have 50% or more of their plate be raw. You can take one of the main dishes from Celebrate Life! add a large salad with sprouts and that is your meal. In Celebrate Life! there are many dishes that can be your main dish like, Lentil Loaf, Dolmas, Italian Stuffed Peppers, Roasted Peppers Black Bean Salad Wraps, Rustic Holiday Stuffing, Spanakopita, Baked Vegetable Millet Croquettes.
Q: How many books have you written?
A: I have written four books. Last year I came out with two books, Vegan Inspirations which I co-authored with a dear friend, Vegan Chef Todd Dacey of Hawaii, and my own book, Celebrate Life! The majority of recipes in Celebrate Life! are from my fourteen years of having a vegan cooking school. I felt I had to get these recipes out to people as so much went into them and they are so great! The book is in full color and each recipe has a payer or affirmation to inspire you while you are in your kitchen. There is a section on Kitchen Yoga and a short story about my journey with food and how Kaliji gave me my full spiritual name, Jia Annapurna Saraswati. Annapurna is the Hindu food goddess and Saraswati is the goddess of creativity and knowledge.
Q: When you teach cooking, are there any principles that you share?
A: Keep it simple and be joy-filled while in the kitchen. This is the main principles behind what I teach today. Kaliji says that we should bring yoga into our daily life. What better place to practice the principles of yoga than in the kitchen where you nourish yourself and others you love. Kaliji has always taught to bring joy into all you do and Dr. Emoto, a Japanese scientist, has proved that our thoughts and feelings affect physical reality. Using high speed photography, Dr. Emoto discovered that crystals formed in frozen water changed when specific, concentrated thoughts were directed towards them. Water that had been exposed to loving words showed brilliant, complex and colorful snowflakeâ€“like patterns while water exposed to negative thoughts formed incomplete, asymmetrical patterns with dull colors. Dr. Emoto has shown us proof that what we think and feel does matter and does affect our world. An old yoga principle.
Q: How did your understanding of how yoga principles can be practiced in the kitchen grew over time?
A: It did not become really conscious in me until a few years ago. For years I have thought of my kitchen as my Temple Kitchen, but I had not really developed what that meant in a practical way. I feel I am finally doing it. Now when I go into my kitchen, like when I step onto my yoga mat, I clear my mind, letting go of my day or any cares. I use all the tools I have been taught through TriYoga to help me with this process. If I need to put some music on, I do that. If I feel to dance a little first, I do that. But, the best is to take a long deep yoga breath and center myself in my heart where all the love, joy and gratitude resides and feel it expand. It’s a practice that gets easier and easier as you do it. I like to say, Let being in your kitchen be a reminder to live from this yoga space, from your heart, then bring it into every part of your life. That is living like a yogi.
Q: Can you tell us more about your latest book, Celebrate Life!?
A: Yes, I wanted this book to have recipes that would give people the confidence to share vegan food with family and friends. My recipes have tastes and textures that most Americans can relate to. Celebrate Life! has six menus; a brunch, two stand-up buffets and three sit-down dinners. One of the gems of this book is a section called Kitchen Wisdom. Kitchen Wisdom is full of useful tips, cooking and prepping techniques, cooking trivia and more. It answers questions like, “Why shop for egg plant by gender?” It is filled with pearls of culinary knowledge and is fun reading.
You can find Jia’s books and most recent recipes on her blog: CookingWithJia.BlogSpot.com