Unsung Santa Cruz: ‘They needed a community,’ and she was the one to keep them together
Through the pandemic and the CZU fire, yoga studio owner Juko Holiday prioritized her clients through the community and safe space she cultivated at Ease Mountain Yoga in Ben Lomond. Holiday lost her two tiny homes in the blaze but continued to offer free meditation classes over Zoom from a hotel lobby to help heal her community.
On the outside, Ease Mountain Yoga looks like any other yoga studio. But for those who frequent the spot, the studio has turned into a community, a safe space and a support group through the COVID-19 pandemic and CZU fire, thanks to studio owner Juko Holiday.
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Holiday has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a doctorate in transpersonal psychology. Since earning her degrees, she has melded her practices with yoga, offering yoga therapy clinics dealing with stress management and depression, and has her own private practice. Ease Mountain Yoga studio opened in 2012.
“It was like the sky opened up and said, ‘A community needs this, and you are hereby officially to be the person who’s gonna organize it,’” Holiday said. “And I’ll tell you, you know, it was unlikely, because my career was going in a whole different direction, but I opened this space.”
The number of attendees fluctuated in the beginning; anywhere between three and 30 people would join Holiday’s classes. But no matter how many were in attendance, Holiday was determined to build a welcoming and safe community for everybody.
When COVID-19 began to take hold in the United States in March 2020, Holiday pivoted to Zoom immediately, never missing or canceling a class. She said “ahimsa,” a commitment to not harm others, drawn from both Hinduism and Buddhism, is what drove her to online classes before shelter-in-place orders were in effect. She said this commitment was particularly important in light of the coronavirus.
“People need their practice, they need their community, they need to see each other,” Holiday said. “And so we got that going online, and I was like, ‘I got this pandemic, bring it.’”
Ariel Young nominated Holiday as an Unsung Santa Cruzan. She said Holiday’s online classes held their community together through a time of uncertainty.
“She’s one of the best humans I know in the whole world,” Young said. “She would describe herself as ‘just another bozo on the bus,’ but everybody who knows her disagrees.”
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About five months after shelter-in-place orders started, the CZU fire swept through the Santa Cruz Mountains, destroying 1,490 structures, two of which were Holiday and her husband’s tiny homes. They didn’t take many belongings with them when they evacuated, and everything else burned in the fire.
Holiday and her husband were in a hotel room when she learned of the fire damage to her property. She logged into Zoom and hosted a 70-person free meditation session from the hotel lobby.
I just kept going because I knew that people needed to see each other, they needed a community.
— Juko Holiday
“I just kept going because I knew that people needed to see each other, they needed a community,” Holiday said. “And then I — as a lot of folks do who take care of others — was neglecting myself a little bit.”
About a month after the fire, friends of Holiday started a GoFundMe in her name. It has since received over $50,000 in donations.
“Juko never stopped providing communities for everybody even though she was going through her own really, really difficult loss,” Young said.
Daisy Leftwich, a frequent client of Ease Mountain Yoga, said Holiday’s classes through the pandemic saved her through a series of difficult life events.
Juko never stopped providing communities for everybody even though she was going through her own really, really difficult loss.
— Ariel Young
“My wife and I sat in a hotel room waiting for reports on our house. We were convinced that our house was gone,” Leftwich said. “But Juko held the meditation the next day after her house was destroyed. And still, every week, she’s here giving this meditation class for free, and all of us are supporting each other and creating this place where we can all be there for each other.”
Many of Holiday’s classes are offered on a sliding-scale donation, allowing those to pay as much as they can afford in order to attend. Those who lost homes in the CZU fire can attend classes for free, and Holiday still offers free meditation classes over Zoom.
Young summed up what she sees as Holiday’s mission through all the tough times.
“It was a lot to have the pandemic and then the fire, evacuation, and then people losing homes all piled on,” she said. “So her main goal, as I’ve always understood, is removing the obstacles for people to experience wholeness and peace of mind.”
An earlier version of this story misstated how many structures of Holiday’s burned down.