How I know Jill
Jill and I met through Instagram! I’m certainly not above it as I’ve met some of my closest LA friends through IG. Jill is the mastermind behind Spirit Daughter, bringing beautiful handmade dreamcatchers from Bali to Venice, CA and the world through her website. She also shares uplifting quotes, inspiring visual content, and words of wisdom through her Instagram account. I loved her aesthetic, was honestly curious to hear more of the story behind the beautiful dreamcatchers on her website, and noticed she was located in Venice, CA, where I work. I figured we were probably within walking distance of each other so sent her a note to see if she wanted to grab coffee before I headed into the office one morning. She was down!
Within minutes of meeting her I realized she is an extremely intuitive woman who has studied both Eastern and Western medicine at length. She is enamored by the complexity of the brain and has devoted most of her career to helping others become more mindful. She has played the role of neurologist, yoga instructor, dreamcatcher aficionado, and moon circle leader, all within one lifetime. I learned a lot more about things I’d already heard of, and all about something totally new - moon circles! Moon circles are a recent trend in LA which she’s been doing for years, aka she was doing it before it was cool. I had to have the full Jill Wintersteen experience after that, so I dug right in with this interview and went to my first new moon circle the following week, where we practiced yoga, meditation, journaling, and intention setting; all while learning about ancient healing beliefs. Jill is a new friend of mine and I’m excited to share who she is and what she is passionate about with you. And don’t worry, you’ll find out what a moon circle is!
Getting to know Jill
Where all have you lived and how did you make it to LA?
I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. After college I moved to Baltimore to work and study at John's Hopkins. From there, I moved to San Francisco and lived between the east and west coast for awhile. About 8 years ago I had the opportunity to move to Santa Monica and study Chinese Medicine and Anatomy. I moved to LA, thinking I would only stay a year and move back to SF. I’m still here with no plans of leaving.
You said you started off as a neurologist. How did you decide to get into that field and what made you choose to transition to yoga and then eastern medicine?
When I was in my teens I became obsessed with consciousness. I read tons of books on it, tried out various drugs to explore it and sat in nature to further my understanding of all things related to conscious minds. This lead me to psychology and research in neurology. I became very disenchanted with the field while pursuing my doctoral degree. I finished with a master’s degree but decided to leave the field, no longer wanting to contribute to what I believed was a corrupt system at the time. I wanted to explore holistic systems focused on prevention of neurogenic disorders rather than treatments from pharmaceutical companies.
After I left, for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a plan. This freaked me out to say the least. My type A personality didn’t know what to do. I became very sick from the stress I was putting on myself to figure out my next move. Not knowing what to do, I began to practice yoga, sometimes twice a day. After about 6 months, my yoga teacher at the time suggested I take a teacher training to learn more. I had the time and fortunately the money so I took it with no intention of ever teaching. The deeper I got into yoga, the more positive effects I saw it could have on people. I met people who were on Prozac and all sorts of antidepressants who had started doing yoga every day and eventually dropped their anti-anxiety meds. It was just amazing. This just made me thirsty for more knowledge. All the energy I had previously directed to neurology now had a new focus. I began reading text after text about yoga and anatomy. I eventually found Ana Forrest (@forrestyoga) and loved her approach to yoga. I took another 200 hours of training with her and decided I needed to teach (she also insisted I do so). While studying with Ana, I met a woman named Ellen Heed who lived in LA. She taught at the Shiatsu School in Santa Monica. Within 5 minutes of meeting her, I knew I needed to study more with her. She introduced me to a group of practitioners in LA that practiced deep bodywork and Chinese Medicine. I moved to Santa Monica to study with them. I began incorporating the knowledge into my yoga pursuits and developed a successful private practice in the LA area. I still teach but on a very limited basis.
Getting the DL on Spirit Daughter
How did Spirit Daughter come to be, starting with how you met your artisan Ayu in Bali?
The first time I went to Bali I met Ayu. That was over a year ago. This is one of those things - you know when you look back on a certain part of your life and it all becomes so serendipitous. I had this feeling that there was something for me in Bali and I was open to it, so I started planning a trip. It was one girlfriend and I going so we were looking for these little 2 bedroom places. It was supposed to be cheap because it was, you know, Bali. And then this other friend was like "well I want to go!" So I started looking for a 3-bedroom space. The third friend was wanting to throw a lot more money down on this trip so I upped the game on the airbnb a little bit. I ended up finding this beautiful airbnb that I fell in love with. I thought this is the place, we have to stay in place. Well that third girl ended up dropping out of the trip, and then another friend of mine decided to come at the very last minute! So the three of us went to Bali and stayed in this amazing airbnb. When we arrived at the airbnb we saw these 2 dreamcatchers hanging in the place. I was in love with them.
At the time I was going through one of those personal things, thinking about whether I wanted to commit to a more serious relationship with my now boyfriend. I stayed in this bedroom by myself. The airbnb owners had these amazing relationship pictures on the wall (them traveling around the world together). I was staring at all those pictures and this beautiful dreamcatcher thinking, I want someone to share all of this with. I decided to fully commit to my boyfriend in that moment. And in the same moment, I was like… and I need that dreamcatcher! That’s when it started. My friends and I looked all over for dreamcatchers just like this one in the following days. We couldn’t find them anywhere.
The owners of the airbnb were actually in Canada at the time, so I messaged them after looking for a couple days. They said we'd have to go to this place in Seminyak. So we went to this store in Seminyak and found some there. The store is now closed, which is unfortunate. I bought a couple and was good to walk away. But my friend who had come on the trip at the last minute was like “Do you have any more colors? I want a specific color.” I’m not pushy or anything, but it was so natural for her. She basically drilled these girls at the shop until they gave her Ayu’s number, the maker, so she could get the exact color! I’m still so grateful to her for doing that because I would have never done that. So it was just so funny how she jumped into the trip last minute and then she was the one to make this happen. I got in contact with Ayu because I was the only one with a local SIM. I started talking to Ayu and asked her to make that color and several other colors just because.
When we went to pick them up, I bought a bunch for myself, friends, and family. There was this one that’s now hanging in my guest room. I had a dream about it last night actually. It’s a small one, it’s not on the website. It looks like it should be in a little girl’s room. At the time I was having dreams about this little girl and truthfully it was also what inspired me commit to my partner. I kept thinking, I want to have a family, this little girl keeps visiting me, I think there’s something there, and I totally believe all this stuff. So my friend Erica saw this little dreamcatcher and Ayu got excited and was like “oh it’s perfect for a little girl’s room! Do either of you have little girls?” Erica just looked at me and was like "you need to buy this." I knew exactly what she was thinking because I had been telling her about my dreams.
That dreamcatcher was actually the one which made me launch Spirit Daughter. That’s where the name Spirit Daughter comes from.
I brought them home and went to Mammoth, CA because my boyfriend was up there at the time. I told him I was ready to be with him and that’s when we committed to each other. I told him about the dreamcatchers. I remember telling him, excitedly: “I really feel like people would love these, especially in LA, and I could basically change this woman’s life (Ayu) in Bali, and her sister’s lives, and her whole family’s lives.”
What is Ayu’s balinese lifestyle like?
They are extremely happy, extremely religious, spiritual people. They believe in the full extent of gods and ceremonies. They have to throw these huge ceremonies at multiple stages of their children’s lives. So basically everything they do is to put money towards ceremony. It’s kind of this loop that they could break out of but they don’t want to break out of because it’s so embedded in their culture. I spent a lot of time talking to locals and understanding this lifestyle/culture. The airbnb provided us with two local cooks who would come over every morning for breakfast. We’d sit around and talk to them like, “well what are you doing for the rest of the day?” We learned a lot about it that way.
At what point did you decide to turn Ayu’s dreamcatchers into a business?
We were in Bali for 2 weeks that first time. When I came back I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. It took me about 6 months for me to finally decide I’m going to get back in contact with Ayu. I’m going to think about what colors and sizes I want and order the first batch.
I decided I would just take the leap and do it. I had been thinking at the time I wanted to do something different than yoga and I needed a transition. At the time I was doing like 15-18 sessions a week and just driving non-stop around the city. It was just taking a toll on me in every way. I was coming home completely exhausted and knew I needed a transition. I was thinking, I can’t imagine if I were coming home to a 5 year old right now.
I wanted to be able to automate some things in my life and focus my attention where it was needed. I am fortunate that Garrett my boyfriend can also live anywhere, and I wanted a job that would allow me to do the same. He does really well and if we got married I wouldn’t have to work if I didn’t want to, but I didn’t want that. If the yoga was not sustainable I wanted to have the option to keep working. There’s nothing wrong with being a housewife or stay at home mom, but for me personally I know that that I would just get depressed. I need the extra stimulus. I think it’s great when parents are home with their children. Garrett works from home a lot too and it’s nice to think of the idea of us evolving as a family and being home together someday. I also don’t want to put all the pressure on him to be the one with the financial cushion and social connections.
So even though I loved yoga, I realized it was not sustainable for me as a lifelong career. I may go back to it at some point and do it differently, and I will continue to do the new moon circles and full moon retreats. I like that kind of low maintenance teaching.
When we went to Bali to get the first batch, I gave Ayu the money and she literally just started crying. She was just so grateful and so happy. Sometimes I go through moments of doubt where I’m like what am I doing. I think of that moment and think ok that’s what I’m doing. I could totally be doing something else. I had thought of writing a book or starting a blog but this was just one of those things where I knew it was a life change because it was like a wave came to pick me up and just carried me along this road. Of course I have control of some things but not everything. Sometimes you don’t have control but you’re just like ok this is happening.
Do you think Ayu uses most of the money she makes through Spirit Daughter for her ceremonies? Do you think it’s improving her family’s quality of life?
Definitely. She has 3 sons. I know she uses the money for them and their ceremonies. That’s what costs them the most and keeps them indebted - their religion. The kids need ceremonies when they’re born, when they’re 1, when they’re 7, and it’s this whole process. It’s a lot of money relatively speaking. I know this has taken a lot of financial stress off of her and her family.
Having a background in western medicine, and having deeply studied eastern medicine, I have a lot of knowledge to share which is now in high demand! I was out with some friends at some little speakeasy thing on Abbott Kinney. I was just in the middle of the room full of people who were in their early 20s or something and realized how trendy a deep understanding of ancient practices had become. I thought I need to find a way to integrate the dreamcatchers and then also inspire and share messages with people who need it and want it. It used to be that I would get made fun of for being extremely spiritual and into crystals, but now it seems my lifestyle is something that young people actually want to learn about. It’s fun to realize that!
That’s what my instagram is about. It’s about selling dreamcatchers but it’s also about seminating information that inspires in a way that can reach a lot of people. I don’t just want to be posting dreamcatcher after dreamcatcher. I want to be sharing knowledge and a multi-dimensional lifestyle with people. I want to just download everything in my brain and curate what I want to share with the world. It took me awhile to get to the point where I felt confident enough to share. And that’s probably why you won’t see my picture on my Instagram. There is that sense of vulnerability there. Will people really like it, or just like it? Are they going to read this thing that took me an hour to write? And I think to myself if even one person takes the time to read this and it means something to them, that would be worth it. My friend Kaitee (@moonbodysoul) has really helped to give me that confidence and show me that people actually do want the information I have to share, and I’m so grateful for that!
Don’t we all have that friend? Go us! #WomenHelpingWomen
What’s the response been like to Spirit Daughter?
The response has been amazing! I ran the numbers recently. My boyfriend Garrett has coached me along the way with the financial stuff. That is something I’m not good at. I’m terrible with money. I’m just one of those people. I think if I need more I’ll make more. It’ll work out - it’s money, it always works out! He sat me down and was like “ok I want you to figure out your profit margins.” So now I have spreadsheets to figure out exactly how much I’m spending on boxes and shipments and product, etc. It also allows me to simulate different models like wholesale. I ran the numbers last month and he looked at them and said “you have a profitable business!” That made me really happy to know that I could do it! I’m not trying to become huge, but I do want it to be sustainable so I can keep doing it. That’s the important part. I don’t want to go into debt. I know a lot of forced entrepreneurs that are in so much debt that they just have to stay in the business. I’m glad I have someone to encourage me to keep my finances on track. I try to do everything myself for the most part, as far as photos and look books. I could have hired that out but I said no I can figure it out and make it look just as good. It’s just been such a learning experience, it’s amazing.
What’s a moon circle?
Do you want the long story or the short story?
Whichever one you feel inclined to give today.
Short story first – every month my friend Kaitee (bath goddess @moonbodysoul) and I extend an invitation to celebrate the new moon surrounded by crystals, candles, and beautiful souls. It is a night of yoga, meditation, journaling, and intention setting for the coming month. These are the nights magic is born, dreams are created, and fears are confronted. It’s a time to go inward with the support of others and speak to your soul. It’s a time of new beginnings, ways of thinking, and ways of being.
The long story – moon circles originated in ancient civilizations around the world and especially in Native American culture (google “moon circle,” “moon lodge,” or “red tent”). Women were separated from their communities when they were menstruating. There is record of this occurring in patriarchal and matriarchal societies, so some sources say women were ostracized and others say that they were honored and given time away from their daily duties to go through this natural process and re-set their intentions. What most of the accounts have in common is that this time was seen as a time of sacred purification where women came together in a common space. As we all know, we don't get those kinds of breaks by default today! I mean we’re running a really complex machine here and our society gives little to no slack for that. I tease my boyfriend all the time like - you’re a hammer and nail; I’m a macbook. I have done tons of studies on the relationship between menstruation and the moon and found that our cycles used to sync with the lunar cycle. As we know, our menstruation cycles also sync with other women around us through pheromones. So back in the day, women would have all menstruated at the same time and it aligned with the lunar cycle. Now things are a bit different because we have artificial hormones in birth control floating around in our societies mixing it all up as our bodies try to sync with one another. Today moon circles have nothing to do with menstruation but everything to do with coming together.
Life as a wanderlust entrepreneur sourcing artisan items internationally
The concept of leaving the corporate world and doing something totally creative and entrepreneurial can be foreign, scary, or distant and dreamy for people in the corporate world to think about. I can imagine my readers are just as curious as me about how you went to Bali, made a connection, and made a business happen. It’s extremely commendable. How did you take that leap of faith?
Thanks! Because I took a leap to do yoga years ago, it was a little easier for me, but it was definitely still a leap. Luckily I’ve had a lot of encouragement along the way and that helps so much. I’ve been watching people who inspire me do similar things. That reassures me it is possible to do.
Also when I originally found the dreamcatchers on a trip to Bali, I had known there was something there for me before I even booked the trip. I just knew I had to go so I followed my intuition and did it. I wasn’t really looking for anything specific but was open to what I might find.
Making big decisions based on intuition is really hard to do or consider normal in the corporate world especially as a woman. Because it is historically a masculine-dominated place, decisions in the workplace are most widely acceptable when they can be explained in a way that embodies masculine traits. Over time professional women can start to suppress their true nature even though there are many valuable feminine qualities needed everywhere, including in the workplace.
I’ve seen tech take over California. San Francisco, 10 years ago, was so different. I went up there recently and was just like what happened?! It used to be homey and full of creatives and artists. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s great and it was much needed and it’s evolution, but there’s a part of it that’s a little sad. And now I’m watching the tech movement come to Venice. I know that women definitely work within these companies but they are male dominated. The whole mindset that lives inside of these companies ends up changing the communities around them as well.
My friend Kaitee and I started leading local moon circles every month because we believe it’s critical for women to be inspired by other women and stay creative.
You are a wanderlust jetsetter. Tell me a little bit about how often you travel, where you’ve been, where you’re at now, and where you’re going next!
I love to travel. I seriously feel at home at the airport. The excitement of visiting new lands, people and energy drives me to arrange my whole life around traveling. It’s no surprise my boyfriend can work from anywhere as long as there is Wifi. I have been all over Europe, Peru, the Caribbean, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, all over the US and through Central America. Currently I’m in Bali. Next up on our itinerary is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in October. We’re so excited and slightly scared. We’re also going on a safari and I can’t wait to see those lions! After that trip, I only need to visit Antartica and I’ll have been to all continents.
How heavy do you pack when you travel and what are your must-have items?
I tend to pack really light. I try to never check bags. I love shopping in new places and figure I can always have fun finding something new to wear. My must haves are my moleskine journal, my camera (I’m a nikon girl), my iPad (full of new books for each trip), sandalwood essential oil (It’s a great cleanser and moisturizer in any climate) a small crystal which varies on each trip (I have a small piece of citrine with me now), B12 and Chinese herbs for energy/jetlag/intestinal issues, and now a small dreamcatcher to hang and take pics of in different locations.
How do you get the dreamcatchers from Bali to the US on an ongoing basis?
After I placed the first large order I realized that the shipping cost from Bali is very expensive. Garrett was like, “well I was kind of jealous that you were there last time without me, so let’s just go!” So we went back and stayed in the same Airbnb, which was just awesome. I’ve figured out how to ship the smaller ones, and I’m starting to figure out how to ship the medium ones. But I always have to go get the larger ones that are around 20 centimeters. We’ve figured out how to carry a lot onto the plane! That’s the reason why they cost what they do, because I have to physically go there and hand-carry them back. Once my business gets to the point where I order larger lots, I can ship them in a shipping container. That would take a while, but sustainability-wise I know I can’t be traveling non-stop to Bali.
What has been the hardest part about running your own business? Was there ever a point you thought this is the end, it will never work out?
The hardest part is the part I love the most: the learning. I’ve had to learn so much from marketing to Photoshop and Lightroom to how to effectively communicate with my maker over WhatsApp. I learn something, if not a few things, every day.
It may sound cheesy, but I always knew it would work out because I feel like this something I have to do. At times when sales were low, I knew I just needed to learn something new or try a different approach. It’s a choice, but not really. There’s something larger at work here and for some reason I’m supposed to run this business. It feels like a warm breeze came and picked me up and led me down this road, I just roll with it.
You mentioned you still teach yoga on a limited basis. How do you balance teaching yoga and running Spirit Daughter?
Spirit Daughter represents my next phase of life so I am working hard to stay true to myself and make space for it as my top priority professionally. Spirit Daughter takes a lot of time, but I love it so I want to make time for it in order to grow it. Whenever I’m doing something else that kind of breaks the flow, I’m thinking I should be taking photos or writing something or working on my lookbook right now. Each yoga appointment I have can take up to 2.5 hours with transportation, so it really does challenge my ability to focus on Spirit Daughter.
Today I only teach private lessons with existing clients on a limited basis since there are only so many hours in a day. I have held onto some clients because we’ve really become part of each other’s routine. For example, I have one client I’ve seen every Wednesday when we’re both in town for the past 6 years. Most of my clients travel a lot themselves so they understand it’s only when we’re both in town.
I do believe you have to shut some doors before you can completely launch into something else, but it is an emotional process. At the moment I’m straddling but slowly getting there! I meditate every morning and think about what I need to do to help myself prioritize and focus.