How did I go from taking yoga classes to instructing almost 20 per week at Equinox in NYC?
My yoga experience dates to 1995 when I took Hatha classes at a local community center in Santa Cruz California. I am an East Coast girl through and through, but I left Oberlin College after 2 years to take a break and live in California. I could only find work at a fast food place in Santa Cruz, and after a long day on my feet, I needed something to help me unwind. Most folks in the Bay area unwind with medicinal herbals, but I was interested in something physical. I saw a flyer and decided to go try it out. I don’t remember which class it was, but at some point, I fell asleep during savasana (the relaxation at the end) and I realized I had never really been so at peace inside my own body. I had never breathed so deeply, sweat so profusely and been so thoroughly engaged physically and mentally. I was hooked.
I continued taking classes when I returned to NYC, trying Bikram (4 years) and random vinyasa classes here and there. One of my closest friends told me about this class she had been obsessed with at New York Sports Club, specifically Monday mornings in Harlem. Harlem NYC these days has tons of yoga studios, but we are talking over 15 years ago! Not a single yoga studio – except that we had a fantastic instructor named Jojo who would fill up the tiny boxing studio every Monday at 10am, make us sweat and laugh, and had us all coming back for more week after week. I remember doing my first bind and thinking “Is this a joke? This hurts so much!!” I had no idea how tight my shoulders were until I tried putting them through full range of motion while breathing, not squirming, not thinking about something else, not running away. Boy was I hooked!
After about 5 years of taking class, mastering poses, falling in love with yoga (I literally practiced my headstand ALL THE TIME) -I decided to get certified. This was around the same time in NYC – late 1990’s and early 2000’s – that yoga was peaking in popularity due to celebrity practices like Madonna, Gwyneth, Wilhem and others…I didn’t want to associate myself with a popularity contest fad, so I chose the most anti-celebrity yoga studio I could think of: Integral Yoga on 13th Street. Housed in a modest brownstone on a quiet block, Integral was a very authentic Yoga studio, with a world renown Hatha practice and a no-nonsense sort of approach. You were there to practice yoga, not burn calories, not be seen, not check yourself out in the mirror. 200 hours of classes later and guess who fell asleep in savasana?
I looked for work, found some local classes to teach, but then was also hired at Equinox as a personal trainer (they weren’t hiring yoga instructors at the time and I just wanted to get my foot in the door). I was honestly willing to do anything – I picked up all kinds of training shifts, never said no to a client and found myself very successful before long. Finally, the day came to audition as a yoga instructor (common practice – like an interview for a desk job). I was quickly offered my first class – Again, I would take anything. I started out teaching the 9am slot on Sunday mornings. I had a very loyal crowd and by all measures, things were going well.
I had the opportunity to go away to Costa Rica for a month to get my 300-hour certification with Jivamukti Yoga. For years I was conflicted about Jivamukti. They were arguably the best studio in NYC (my teacher Jojo was heavily influenced by them) but they were also loudly vegan, very white, and not super affordable. I wondered who this yoga was for and if I could compartmentalize these inner struggles and just practice yoga.
By 2012, the answer was yes. I flew to Costa Rica and had a profoundly life changing experience. I learned how to mediate – really meditate. I learned how to practice for myself, not for my teacher’s approval or for bragging rights. I learned how to listen -Jivamukti teachers do not perform the poses -they only instruct verbally. This gives the student the chance to interpret the information and gives the teacher the chance to focus solely on what the students are doing. All of this allows the student to travel inside and stay present. Yoga then reveals itself for what it is – an empty page where we project all our inner dialog, inner fears, inner doubts, judgments and insecurities – so we can become aware! “Am I doing it right? I’ll never be able to get into that pose. Humph, looks so easy for her! This is hard -I wonder what I should eat for dinner? Why isn’t the teacher showing it? I can’t learn unless I see…” and on and on it goes.
Are any of those fears and ruminations TRUE? Or is it just our mind limiting us to some identity we have constructed to keep ourselves grounded in familiar territory? Anyone walking into a yoga studio wants change – they imagine its just a matter of becoming more flexible, and perhaps for a time it is. After this aspect of the practice has been satisfied, deeper revelations come to light. How can we learn to be uncomfortable, to be fearful, to be floundering, to let ourselves feel frustration, envy and yet STILL BE OK?
How can you change when you don’t even know the parts of yourself that need to grow?
In short, once I was back from Costa Rica, I was offered class after class after class. I said yes to everything, built my brand, and never looked back. I continued learning with a 100 hour Ashtanga training at PURE yoga and started my Ashtanga practice, the mother of all Vinyasa style classes.
I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I know I love transformation. I love making space in my life for both fear and triumph. I love evolving. Yoga has been the vehicle allowing me to create all that space.