How did I get into yoga?
I don’t know how or why, but I do know when. And as you will see, if you have the patience to read this entire entry, it seems yoga has always been this way for me in my life: It has a history of coming up almost by divine intervention, if you believe in that, and it always changes EVERYTHING.
When I was 15, a yoga studio opened above my favorite childhood frozen yogurt shop (shout out to Penguin’s in West LA). One day, for a reason I will never know, I decided to go into this yoga studio. Maybe it was because I was a teenage girl in LA that hated by body, maybe it was because I wondered if it could help my debilitating and chronic migraines...I don't know WHY I went, but I know why I kept going back.
There, I stumbled into a class lead by the owner of the studio: Mark Blanchard. I don't remember much, other than not knowing what I was doing or if I was doing it right. What I do remember is loving how I felt afterwards, and the first time I ever did Pigeon Pose. That pose was actually first taught to me by his wife, Elizabeth. If you're a student or a client of mine, you can thank his wife for introducing me to what has now become a staple of my classes and sessions.
I remember finally feeling more in control of my debilitating anxiety, even noticing how I would feel walking out of class versus moments later when something would happen that would cause stress (I hadn't quite been able to take the techniques from the mat into my life...yet). I also started noticing that I was getting stronger physically, and looking a little better. Which at 15, is always the most important thing to a girl. Eventually I wasn’t able to keep up the practice at the studio, babysitting and working a minimum wage job only pays so much, but thankfully a friend of my mom knew about a place in Santa Monica that held yoga classes by donation!
So, in 2003 I took a drive down to Santa Monica and walked into Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga Studio on 2nd street. That’s where it all changed. Because I could donate whatever I had, I was able to go regularly. And I did!
Back in the mid 2000’s, the instructor list at that studio was a true dream: Anaswara, Govindas, Rudy, Tamal Dodge, Vytas, Ally Hamilton, and obviously Bryan Kest (the man who created Power Yoga nbd). I don’t think I could have had a more impressive and incredible group of instructors to study under than the roster at that studio during that time.
As a student, I had heard about how yoga could bring up emotions, about how the body holds onto things. But I didn’t quite understand that until one night in a class taught by Travis Elliot.
Quick little backstory: there was this one guy I dated in college who truly was…well, the worst. He wasn’t 19-year-old boy bad, he was straight up bad person bad. Who knows what bullshit he was doing at that moment in time, but whatever it was: it manifested in my body during that class and I finally understood what all my teachers had been saying over the last few years.
As Travis guided us into a variation of Crescent pose, my jaw LOCKED. It felt like somebody had taken wires to my jaw and two clamps to either side of my face and just jammed it all closed. It was instant, and it was excruciating. I don’t remember what Travis was saying, but I didn’t want to make a scene so I did my best to breathe and listen to everything he was saying so as to not focus on the pain. Eventually, once some tears started to emerge, my jaw started to unlock. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget what it felt like to have my body tell me my heart was hurting and I was in something that was bad for me.
I didn’t listen to my body for another year or two ( I was barely in my 20s...we've all been there), but I had HEARD it.
When college began, some things happened that really pushed me over the edge and I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I’m unsure if you know about or understand depression: but it’s a pretty complicated beast and yoga has helped me tame that beast and stay off of my medications for the last 12 years. Yoga has transformed me from the inside out.
As college drew to an end and I entered the work force, I kept practicing yoga. I had at one point contemplated taking a teacher training to learn more, but trainings are expensive, and I was literally working 4 different jobs in one day, 5 days a week. It just didn’t make sense. Especially because I was also pursuing an acting career: and pursuing acting ironically costs a lot of money.
One day my friend from college asked me if I’d like to backpack through South East Asia with her. I figured out a way to make it happen and had an incredible 5 weeks going through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Bali. My mind was taken back to yoga while I was abroad, and when I returned home, I grabbed my mat and headed back to the studio. As I walked into class, a flyer caught my eye. The flyer had a photo of one the teachers there: Tamal Dodge. He was sitting in a white button-down shirt and jeans with his long wild hair and it said “200 HOUR YOGA CERTIFICATION” and below it read “Payment plans available.”
Me and the phrase “payment plans available” are best buds. I emailed Tamal and signed up for his teacher training right away!
In February of 2009 I received my certification and hit the ground running holding donation yoga classes at my acting studio and at a dance studio by my house. Well…that didn’t last too long. Turns out that teaching donation yoga, like acting, costs money. My heart wasn’t in it enough and my depression was sneaking back up, so I stopped teaching classes. I continued to co-teach the family yoga classes with my fellow YTT bud Dan Ward at the Electric Lodge in Venice, and worked with schools and summer camps bringing yoga to kids. But other than that, yoga wasn't really a big part of my life: as an instructor or sadly as a student.
Over the next 4 years my practice would dwindle to near disintegration, and again I found myself in a bad relationship, working more than one job a day, living with constant migraines and, now, lower back pain. This time I was 27 and a little concerned about what my future would look like if I stayed where I was.
A local yoga studio was doing a new student special: $45.00 for one month. So, I signed up! And guess what happened?
Did you guess? Did you?! Well I'm gonna write about it anyway...this is a blog after all.
Physically: Migraines became less frequent, lower back pain went away, and people that came into my work started noticing a difference in my skin and my body.
But more importantly is what started to happen emotionally.
I have for most of my life been very good at seeing situations from the outside, even when I am IN them. I was aware that the jobs I had and my schedule were not sustainable for my health, and even more aware that I could not stay with the person I was with. I literally lived everyday of my life for well over 3 years walking on eggshells and somehow fucking up anyway. It was a disaster. She was a good person, just not the right person for me. And because we were also friends, it was just so hard to walk away. To imagine hurting her left me paralyzed in so many ways, and while from the outside I could see that it would be better for us both if I just left, from the inside I just wanted so desperately to help her.
Yoga got me to snap the fuck out of all of that. EVERY class I would hear my heart cry "GET OUT!" The voice of my intuition would plead with me to quit my jobs and leave my partner. And I would hear it, just like I did back in college. And I would say "I hear you. I know. But I'm not ready yet."
I was scared. Because change is scary. Quitting jobs is scary. Leaving a relationship and moving back home is scary. I wasn't sure I could handle any of it. But then...YOGA.
This may be a little hippy dippy for you: but I have found that the more I think about something, the more I want something to happen, if I don't take the step, the universe takes it for me. But the universe doesn't just take a step, it shoves me off the cliff. Boiling points arose at my jobs which made it impossible to stay. One job in particular wasn't just a job for me, and the thought of walking away was literally giving me nightmares and breaking my heart into pieces. Because yoga always makes me feel better, I took a walk up my block to a local yoga studio. The class was mediocre, but it wasn't the class that changed my life. It was what I saw when I went to class: next door there was a big sign on brown paper covering a window space: “HOT PILATES OPENING SOON." Ding ding ding! I could work the front desk! The other job I had quit was at a juice company, I loved the job: but I did not love the company's treatment of the employees nor the lies it told to it's patrons. So this seemed like it would be perfect! I could be around people that love wellness like I do, and get paid! So I went home and after some serious cyber digging I found an email and sent over a resume requesting to work the front desk.
Shannon Nadj wrote back right away, and we met one afternoon in an empty space filled with wood pillars that would soon become Los Angeles’ only (and most amazing) hot Pilates studio. She explained her vision, what the space would look like, and then out of nowhere asked me a question that would change the course of my life. “Would you like to teach here?”
As an improviser, the one rule you have to follow is to respond "YES." In fact, not just "Yes," but "Yes and..." So, that's what I did!
It’s all history from there. I started with two classes a week at Hot Pilates, eventually picked up four classes at Rise Movement. Over time I was teaching every day and more than once a day, and eventually started training clients privately.
Obviously: I also hit a breaking point in that relationship. One day I woke up, walked along the beach with my dog, and I realized in that moment I would NEVER feel that calm and happy if I stayed in my relationship one more day. So, that afternoon I ended it and moved my stuff out with the support of my best friend (and her baby). That night, for the first time in over 3 years, I slept through the night.
I kid you not: the moment I took those leaps, everything changed and the world opened up for me and just started giving me all the things I never felt like I deserved.
I don't struggle paycheck to paycheck anymore (that's not to say sometimes it isn't tight: sometimes it is, as my income is completely reliant on my clients accountability and my students attendance in class) but I am actually able to save money and not be anxious constantly! I don't suffer from chronic migraines or debilitating back pain: being an instructor, and in my 30s, comes with it's own little bag of injuries, but I'd rather have a small injury from using my body, than the pain and immobility I had from not. And as for my relationship: I made a list of the dream qualities a boyfriend would have and what a fantasy relationship would look like. I had a few non-nogotiables, and then the list continued with qualities I understood would not all exist in one human being. Well, not even three months later I happened to meet a man that hits EVERY quality I put on that list, EVERY SINGLE ONE, and we have a relationship I just didn't really believe could exist.
It wasn't a long process, the universe gave me a couple of kicks along the way when I wasn't brave enough to make the jump. And I know that had not been practicing yoga: I would have just pushed back and stayed still.
It is because of yoga I didn't fight the universe, but I followed it's lead. It's because of yoga I have learned about who I am and how to love myself, and how I deserve to be loved. It is because of yoga I am sitting here, in my favorite chair which was given to me by my friend that started as a client, in a home I have created with the man I am planning on spending the rest of my life with, after a morning spent privately training and publicly teaching people yoga.
I get to spend every day studying and exploring what I love: yoga and it's benefits, and I get paid to share what I know with others. I have had clients go from not being able to bend down, to sending me selfies of them touching their toes or doing pigeon pose when they're out of town (Shout out to Lauren: the friend that gave me this chair I am sitting in, and now will request 8 minute Pigeon for our sessions. ILY). I’ve had students come up to me in tears telling me how I’ve changed their lives from inspiring them to leave a job they don’t like or changing how they handle confrontation with family. I don’t even know how I could possibly impact people the way Anaswara, Tamal, and the other teachers I studied under impacted me. But it seems I do, at least for some. And for that I am so grateful.
I love yoga because, as you can see, it has come into my life over and over again and made every aspect better. Psychologically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Yoga has made my life better, and as I mentioned in my first post: all I want to do with my life is make this world, and the lives of people in it, better.
Yoga is my church, my therapy, and my exercise. Yoga has literally saved my life over and over again, and while I respect everybody has their own jam when it comes to physical activity, I agree with my student and friend Candace that said it best:
“The world would be a better place if everybody did Pigeon.”
Just of the entry…my journey I know is nowhere near over.
Here's another photo of Dusty in Malibu...but this one is from THAT morning. The morning I listened to my heart.