When I think about this post, I always wonder: where do I begin? And the most obvious answer is, of course, the beginning.
As someone who’s practiced yoga for 23 years now, the beginning feels more like a memory of a memory, rather than the visual itself, you know what I mean? And the lifetimes I’ve lived within those 23 years could (and just might) be a novel one day.
That being said, this post is dedicated to sharing my origin story as a yoga teacher with you. I’ll talk about when I started, who my teachers are, where I’ve trained, and how I’ve grown as a teacher and an entrepreneur in this industry.
My Yoga Story
The first time I did yoga I was 12-years old.
Just to set the scene, this was in the year 2000, and at my small hometown gym. I’m sure you can only imagine the looks at that time. Iconic.
I had been a competitive gymnast since I was about 9-years-old. And this took up the majority of my life. I had 5 hour practices 4 days a week, plus school to stay on top of. I was also (somehow) incredibly social. So I wanted to make sure any spare time was filled with playdates and sleepovers.
In the summer between sixth and seventh grade, I decided to start going to the gym with my mom. She had been a fitness instructor for as long as I could remember. I practically grew up in gym daycares, with fond memories of her thong leotards, brightly colored leggings, and Reeboks.
I wanted to go to the gym in the summer of 2000 so that I could learn how to properly weight lift, and how to use all of the machines. And I know that’s pretty young to learn. But gym training was common for gymnasts, as well as other athletes. And I figured I’d rather learn from my mom first so that I could be ahead of the curve.
That same summer is when I randomly decided to start taking her yoga classes, too.
My mom had been teaching for a few years already. And I’d heard her talk about yoga, but never really knew what it was. The only thing I really knew is that it would be a good practice to help balance out the intensity of such a competitive sport like gymnastics. And probably something that I’d be naturally “good” at given my existing coordination, flexibility and balance.
Her classes were at 6 am. It’s hard to imagine pre-teen me deciding to wake up at 5 am in order to trek to her classes with her at the crack of dawn, but I did.
While I can’t say I was initially wowed by what a yoga class was, I definitely liked that I was “good” at it. The little performer in me liked making the older people in the class gawk and fawn, too, I’m sure.
Most of all, I loved that doing yoga brought me closer to my mom.
I remember our summer of classes together felt like this special little moment in time that was just for me and her. It wasn’t as much about the yoga, and I can’t say I learned anything spiritual at the time- but it’s still forever etched in my heart as a bonding time with my mom.
I don’t know anything else, so maybe I’m biased here. But I have to imagine there’s something exceptional about learning from your own mom.
At the time, there wasn’t an emphasis on spirituality in her teaching. She was a fitness girlie, remember, so it was mostly physical given her background of being a personal trainer and movement instructor. She had (and still does) an incredible understanding of the body, modifications, and prop use.
In all honesty, I found the yoga itself a bit boring.
And I can’t sit here and say that I was any kind of zen little buddha child from that point on. Far from it, in fact.
Throughout my teenage years I struggled with addiction, depression, and self harm.
The story would be a lot nicer if I said yoga came to the rescue in those moments, but the truth is, it didn’t. I wasn’t a regular practitioner from the time I started in the summer of 2000. But rather someone who popped in and out of my mom’s classes over the years.
By the time I reached university, I joined our school gym and went to yoga once in a while. As a former athlete, and someone who loves to explore movement of all kinds in my body, I chose yoga every so often in an attempt to “balance” the hardcore kickboxing, running, and partying lifestyle I had.
In 2010 I graduated university, and went on my first solo trip abroad ever…to Ghana.
I packed up my life as I knew it, and settled in a tiny village in that little West African country for three full months. I often say that travel was my greatest teacher before even yoga. Even though I’d technically been practicing yoga for 10 years at that point.
Although I was working during my time in Ghana, and living in a house full of other expat volunteers, I still experienced more alone time than ever before. Think about it, I was used to living in a dorm room, then a sorority house. Then houses crammed full of at least 6 roommates at a time (if not more). I partied a lot in school, and went out every chance I could. Hell, even going to the library was a social activity.
Suddenly, I was in a country on the other side of the world. Where they spoke a language that I didn’t know. In a place where I couldn’t blend in if I tried. And I was completely alone. Didn’t know a damn soul. Plus, this was before the time of your smartphone working anywhere in the world. So I had no connection to the outside world other than a tiny internet cafe down the road with dial up internet. Oh, and the power was usually out during most days.
Adjusting to a life of cold bucket showers, instead of running water. Those long, dusty walks to the school where I worked with hawkers selling everything from brightly colored fabrics, to insanely pungent dried fish- those walks equally frightened me, and excited me. It was all so new, and so foreign from what I’d previously known. Sometimes new things are scary, and sometimes they’re thrilling. Little 21-year-old me felt both of things all at once.
This was the first time I was more responsible for movement without having access to a gym or classes.
Remember, online fitness or yoga wasn’t a thing yet. And even if it was, I wouldn’t have the connection to watch a video. Let’s be real, the video would not have loaded at all.
As I learned what it meant to take responsibility for my own movement, I did my best to incorporate what little I could remember from yoga. Although, the truth is, I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing.
It’s more about how I felt, not so much about how I looked doing it.
I still tell my students all the time to focus on how they feel, rather than worry about how they look. Because I believe that the healing power of yoga has the chance to work its magic beyond the confines of perfectly traditional alignment.
When I think back to those times of trying to remember “yoga moves” on the tile ground of my dusty little room, I can remember how I felt- not how I looked. Well, the truth is, I didn’t have a mirror anyways. And I certainly wouldn’t have thought to prop up my phone and film myself (did the iPhone even have video back then?!). Oh well, if I did, it would just be a grainy mess anyways.
When I returned to the States, I joined a yoga studio for the first time.
I wish I could say that this was the turn around point for me. And lean into that “yoga saved my life” narrative. But sadly, it had to get worse- a lot worse- before it got better.
To keep it brief, I’ll just say that this was the same time in which I entered into an abusive relationship- where I’d stay for the next year and a half. Although yoga was an outlet for me at the time, I was also heavily in my addiction (alcohol, cocaine, adderall, and whatever else I could get my hands on).
I started working as a bartender at a trendy new lounge in downtown San Diego, which only fueled my addiction even more- although I did make a ton of money, I must admit. I was working my ass off bartending at night, and nannying during the day, doing everything I could to save as much money as I could so that I could leave the country again. Only this time, I hoped to leave for good.
Although I’d always wanted to leave the States from the second I returned from my three month Ghana trip- well, actually I wanted to extend my time in Ghana. But I didn’t even have enough in my bank account to get a new flight home- the truth is that I also wanted to flee in order to survive the relationship I was in. I was scared. And I had every right to be.
My relationship came to an explosive ending on my 24th birthday, which landed me in the hospital and the guy in jail.
Due to his arrest, we then entered into a 9 month long court case that turned out to be nearly more painful than the relationship itself.
Yoga didn’t save me yet. I had crippling PTSD, anxiety, and depression. I was deep in my addiction, and also trying to turn my life around at the same time. But I did keep practicing.
I found my meditation practice later that same year after nearly dying in Uganda when contracting African Tick Bite Fever.
You can read about that whole debacle here if you want to know more about that story.
The long and the short of it is that the sound of my breath got me through a 4 hour ambulance ride where my body was septic, my legs wouldn’t work, and I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. This was my second near death experience in 6 months (the first being that explosive night with my abusive ex). And they both helped me to actually find the power of my breath on my own terms.
Look, I’m not saying you need near death experiences to learn how to meditate. But I was the kind of person that really needs to get knocked over the head with a lesson sometimes in order to really listen. I’m working on it, okay.
From that point on, I developed a mediation practice that was separate from my yoga practice.
This was significant, because meditation brought me closer to yoga.
I was living life on the road again: Kenya, Uganda, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia all in 2012-13. I was responsible for my movement, and learning how to breathe changed everything for me.
Suddenly my yoga practice was less about “yoga moves” in my room, and more about the spiritual infusion of breath and meditation within the asana practice. Don’t get me wrong, I still didn’t really know WHAT the hell I was actually doing. But something about the mindfulness of it all just made it feel different.
Yoga became less about a work out, and more about a work in.
Turns out, that work in came at the right time. Because we were about to go to a full jury trial. After two weeks of testifying on the stand, they came to the verdict that he was not guilty of everything.
I felt betrayed by our system, I felt silenced, and I felt scared. This was when I leaned into yoga, and this is when it started to help keep me afloat.
The next few years consisted of me living in Kenya and Indonesia, hoping to never return to the States again as I started my first non-profit implementing solar projects in off-the-grid communities. I fearlessly followed my dreams, I met someone I thought I was going to marry, and my yoga practice sort of fell to the wayside.
After the break up with the guy I thought was the love of my life, meditation swooped back in to pick up the pieces. Luckily, I was living in Bali at the time, and yoga is plentiful on that tiny island. I started going to classes, even if it meant I had to choose between paying for yoga or a third meal for the day.
In 2014, I was forced to come back to the States because I’d run out of money, and I just didn’t see how I could stretch what few dollars were left any farther. I felt defeated, like a failure, and even a little embarrassed- despite the fact I’d actually accomplished a lot while I was away.
I’d been gone for a few years at that point, and I didn’t know where exactly I fit in. I fell into a deep depression upon my return to the US, not really feeling like I spoke the same language as lifelong friends anymore.
This is when I decided to do my first 200 hour yoga teacher training in California.
I had just moved from Santa Cruz to Encintas, and immediately joined a studio once I landed in the Southern California yoga hot spot. I went to CorePower Yoga (I know, the most corporate place ever), which is where I got sucked in to do my first YTT.
Although the training showed me that corporate style yoga was not for me, it still proved to be incredibly thorough training for safety, anatomy, and sequencing. Let’s just say it was *light* in the spirituality department, but it still woke something up in me.
Joining the yoga community online and in person helped me to make new friends in a way other than partying.
I started posting yoga poses on Instagram during my YTT, joining challenges, and connecting with other yogis through the internet. I’d never met a friend online before. Hell, I’d barely had internet access at all in the last 2 years deep in the jungle, so it was all new and exciting for me.
I started to leverage my newfound yoga teacher training to support my nonprofit, by hosting donation-based classes in the park as fundraisers for my next big solar project in Ethiopia. I was terrified, and truthfully hated teaching at the time because I was so riddled with anxiety. But I kept showing up, I kept doing it. Because I wanted to support the projects.
Then I had the bright idea of asking my new online yoga friends if they’d be interested in hosting a donation-based class in their park to support the cause. After all, seva is a component of yoga.
I reached out to friends and strangers alike, and in the end there were about 60 people who hosted classes in their communities all over the same weekend. We hit our goal of $20k from yoga classes alone. I’ve still yet to meet most of the people who chose to donate their time and energy. They just said yes.
Keep in mind, my account probably had about 1,000 followers.
So, I didn’t really have a lot to leverage in terms of a true collaboration. It was more of a flat out ask, and leaning into yogic philosophy of selfless service. Turns out, people are pretty freaking cool in the yoga space.
After going to Ethiopia and completing the solar project, I had to start over at zero. As cool as it was to have 60 people say YES for the sake of helping, it was also a lot of people to manage and organize.
That’s when I decided to host my first yoga retreat.
I had never been on a yoga retreat (I still haven’t, actually), so- much like the rest of my yoga career- I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. But I did know how to travel. And I did know how to plan an event thanks to working in event planning straight out of college. Plus, I had the confidence, the drive, and motivation to raise the money for a cause I cared so passionately about.
I spent the year working on growing my Instagram, forming friendships, partnerships, modeling for yoga brands (yes, like Alo), and crossing every finger and toe that the retreat would get 10 people.
I sold out my first retreat.
Don’t worry, I can help you plan your own retreat, too with my Masterclass video that’s just 60 minutes. I’ve learned a lot in the last decade, so I don’t have to fake it til I make it anymore. I actually know what I’m doing now.
Once I held my first retreat, I knew this was my calling. I was still terrified of teaching, and fully blacked out the second I stepped on the mat to teach my classes there- but I also had this deeper gut feeling that overrode the terror. It told me that this was what I was meant to do. For now anyways.
For the next six years I traveled the world, living across Asia and Africa while I taught countless retreats, and continued to take trainings every single year.
Yoga became less of a hobby, and more a way of life at this point. Not only was I supporting myself through teaching, but I was also supporting my nonprofit with the proceeds from my retreats.
In that time, I’ve completed over 1000 hours in trainings both in-person and online, most of which were in India. I’ve studied Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, Ayurveda, philosophy, and prenatal. All of which have contributed to my fusion style of classes that you now know today.
In growing my retreats and nonprofit, I also grew my own personal brand to the point that I was able to fully support myself with yoga and yoga-related endeavors.
In 2018, I got the call from Alo Moves asking me to film with them.
This call ultimately changed the trajectory of my career as a yoga teacher, and I’m so grateful to have worked with them for two years, before deciding to part ways. You can learn why I left Alo Moves here.
The biggest thing that teaching for Alo Moves taught me was the difference between online yoga versus in person. And, luckily, I got to learn ahead of the Covid curve.
By 2021, I launched my own app, new courses, and masterclasses.
I continued to teach global retreats as soon as the world opened up again post-pandemic, and also poured attention into growing my following online.
I had also fallen in love, gotten married, and moved back to the States. Oh yeah, and bought land in Nicaragua to build my own retreat center. There’s always a lot going on in my life.
On January 1, 2022 I opened the doors to my very own retreat center, welcoming students and teachers from around the world.
The last year and half has been dedicated to learning how to run an entirely new business in the yoga world, and staring in awe at the place we built from the ground up- while also figuring out how the hell to work with my spouse, which is quite the feat in and of itself.
Today, I’ve officially retired from teaching retreats, and continue to transition into education beyond only asana classes.
Any of you who have been following me closely know that my fertility journey has been a doozy so far.
This time in my life is for me, my growing family, and less about running around the world teaching a million retreats and classes. This time is for slowing down. For letting life surprise me, and letting yoga guide the way.
Although I’m less public in my yoga offerings, the practice has proven to hold me now more than ever before. I continue with self-study and self practice on a daily basis in hopes of carrying all that I gain into new teaching for all of you.
Thanks for sticking with me through this.
I hope to see you on the mat one day, my friends.