Yoga Story


By Brooke Allison (edited by Leslie Hinson)


Hot Yoga of East Nashville has been a sponsor of the Martha O’Bryan Center from our very first year of operation. I remember that October (5 months after opening), I was asked to host a yoga event with Native Magazine, Lululemon and our old neighbors, Fat Bottom Brewing. I recall asking if the event could benefit a charity, and the ladies involved in the planning said yes. I realized I would have to find a charity that I wanted to support, and being new to Nashville at that time, I wasn’t familiar with local nonprofits. Ben Bredesen, the owner of Fat Bottom, mentioned the Martha O’Bryan Center. The name struck me as a mouthful but I looked into it, and soon discovered that I couldn’t think of a better mission to support.

The Martha O’Bryan Center is an anti-poverty nonprofit with deep community roots.  It was founded in the 1890’s to support impoverished North Nashville residents. Since 1948, the Martha O’Bryan Center has operated from the heart of Cayce Place – Nashville’s most distressed community – located just off Shelby Avenue in East Nashville, which is less than a mile from the hub of East Nashville and our yoga studio. The center continues to serve families in this neighborhood – not just to meet their immediate needs but to open doors for possibility and a hopeful future and possibility. Through their education and work-placement programs, they are working to create a culture – a culture of attainment to positively shape future generations.

Martha O’Bryan Center’s Mission echoes this vision:  empowering children, youth and adults in poverty to transform their lives through work, education, employment and fellowship.

There are a lot of folks who depend on the Martha O’Bryan Ministry; in fact, The Cayce Project alone houses 2,800 residents, most of whom are children. In these families:

    • the average income for the entire household in a year is $8,000,
    • 90% of the households are headed by a single female,
    • and the majority of these children are the second and third generations to grow up in poverty.

There is often significant trauma experienced by many of these children, including domestic violence, hunger, and lack of opportunity.  To serve these children, the Martha O’Bryan Center has defined 5 core investments: early learning, K-8 education, high school education, college and career programs, and family support services.  Just to name a few, Martha O’Bryan offers:

    • Family and child counseling and parental trainings
    • Employment placement, as well as childcare and preschool while parents are at work
    • Stronger education opportunities at the East End Preparatory School (a Charter Public School) in East Nashville
    • Tutoring and mentoring programs for middle school and high school students
      • Graduation rates at Stratford STEM Magnet have increased 30% – the highest improvement of all Metro Nashville Public Schools

Since that first event at the old Hot Yoga East location 5 years ago, we have supported the Martha O’Bryan Center with 100% of our donation classes, offered private classes for MOB staff, and hosted an annual food drive. We are looking to take our support of the MOB Center and the greater Nashville community to the next level with Free Yoga Wednesdays. See our Free Yoga Wednesdays Blog for details!

For more information on the Martha O’Bryan Center and the Cayce Project, please watch this short video:



A Slow-Burn Story

As I’ve grown into learning to recognize and trust my intuition, I’ve noticed that she usually appears as a gentle nudging before growing into a flame. This is how I came to the decision to dive into the Hot 26 Teacher Training.

I’ve been practicing Hot 26 for five years now, and part of the HYEN community since the beginning of 2017.  I discovered the Hot 26 series while living in Texas in 2013, dipping my toes in for one of those 30-day deals. I was on a journey of discovering what my body connected and responded to when it came to exercise, and there was something about the Hot 26 series that was both challenging and calming all at once. I was drawn to that. Life changes moved me out to California, and while living beneath the redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains, I found a Bikram studio in a nearby beach town that became a haven to me. Weaving a consistent Hot 26 practice into my routine opened up a portal to feeling more connected, centered, and calm in my body than I had ever been. I knew then that I had stumbled into a life-long love and practice—a ritual I could integrate into my life to help me stay attentive to and manage my depression in a holistic way. I had found something that both calmed my mind and pushed my body simultaneously. Showing up to my mat day-in and day-out was grounding and sacred; knowing that while there were so many things in life outside my control, I had the power to cultivate an inner calm that would be untouchable.

Thinking back on it now, when I would witness a thoughtful and skilled teacher leading a class, I remember having the passing thought that I could see myself doing that someday. I admired the sense of inner power that it took to confidently, and yet naturally recite the Dialogue to a packed room of dedicated practitioners. The idea of leading others through a practice that had given me so much was appealing; but, timing is everything–and I knew I had more work to do in becoming more at home in my own body. I kept the thought in my pocket, trusting that if the desire was still there when opportunity arose, I would consider pursuing becoming a teacher someday.

The Decision

You know those rare, magical moments when intuition and opportunity align— as if the universe is confirming your path, nudging you in the right direction? That’s exactly what happened when I decided to enroll in the Teacher Training this past December. I had asked Cindy (one of the badass women leading the training) in passing one day if she knew of any upcoming Hot 26 teacher trainings, and she just smiled. Literally the next day, Brooke announced the upcoming training via Instagram. I simply couldn’t ignore the synchronicity of it all. But being a songwriter pursuing a career in music, I was hesitant about diving into the training since I wasn’t looking for yoga to be my sole focus. But I had enough friends who know me well assuring me that pursuing a teacher certification would only enhance and strengthen my other passions in life. They had witnessed firsthand how my yoga practice helped me stay present and awake to my life. So I took the financial leap to gain a skill I could carry with me throughout the rest of my life.

Electrolytes, Electrolytes!

Over the course of the nine week training, we logged a total of 54 hot yoga classes. Six classes per week–and on training weekends, two 90-minute classes on Saturdays. While finding and carving out windows in my schedule to practice yoga took over my world for a few months, I noticed that I was sleeping better and more deeply. I could feel my muscles growing stronger. While my body didn’t change dramatically, there were enough subtle shifts that reminded me how being in the flow of multiple classes per week made me feel more in touch with a sense of possibility, agency, and a hopeful outlook. I found myself looking forward to how I knew I would feel at the end of class, and craving whole foods for replenishment. One of the most challenging weekends of training was when Esak Garcia came to town. We had been required to read Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr (highly recommend if you’re curious about Bikram culture and history), and discovered just how influential and revered Esak was within the international yoga community. We sat through posture clinics where he thoroughly unpacked each posture and demonstrated correct alignment. He gave us thoughtful suggestions for deepening our own practice. His knowledge and insights were invaluable. But I was honestly terrified by the words “Backbending Workshop”  on the schedule. We had read about his intensive workshops held all over the country, and knew it would be stretching (pun very much intended). We paired up in groups of two, and lined up along the wall. I was pleasantly surprised (and relieved) by how methodical and focused he approached each backbending attempt. We weren’t freestyling here. Rather, we were learning from a master who challenged us to push beyond where our minds believed we could go. Yes, his flexibility was impressive and truly mind-blowing; but what left an impression on me was the way he led from a place of humble and conscious awareness rather than ego. It made total sense to me now why they call it the “Jedi Fight Club.”

Dear Dialogue…

I participated in Speech and Debate competitions throughout high school, so I’m no stranger to memorization. But there’s honestly no way around it: the Bikram Dialogue is downright daunting. Memorizing an hour and a half’s work of Dialogue is a metaphorical Mt. Kilimanjaro—and our teacher training group a small band of mountaineers huddled at the base, swapping stories around the campfire. The steep climb ahead bonded us quickly–there’s nothing quite like a seemingly insurmountable task to ignite a sense of solidarity. If you ever decide to embark on your own Hot 26 training journey, the best advice I can give is to find a study partner to help you pace out the memorization and keep you accountable. That truly became my lifeline, the “secret sauce” to getting through it. And whenever I would start to feel overwhelmed by the memorization, I would change things up: talking to myself while walking through Shelby Park with my London Fog latte in-hand became a weekly ritual. I made up my mind early on that my best bet for learning the Dialogue was to be proactive in creating a memorization plan and sticking to it as closely as possible. Brooke’s words became our group mantra: “If you keep up, you’ll be kept up.” I found this to be very true.

The First Class

March 30th, 4:30am, the morning of my teaching evaluation:

I had spent time journaling a few intentions the night before—how I wanted people to feel when they left my class, what I wanted to remember, how I wanted to inhabit my body. I set my alarm for 4:30am so I could have time to make tea and warm-up my voice before leading my first ever 6am class, the one that would determine if I passed my certification test. The butterflies started fluttering in my chest, but I also heard my soul whispering louder than my quickening pulse: You’ve worked too hard to crumble now. Trust what you know. You’ve been preparing for this moment. Now all that’s left is to show up for it. In the midst of my nerves, I leaned into that place of inner confidence– trusting my body and mind to remember all that I had been steadily feeding her throughout the past nine weeks. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, then opened the door… walking past the threshold into a new chapter of becoming myself.

Coming Into My Power

Looking back through my journal entries from the end of last year, two themes surfaced from the pages: a curiosity about cultivating a sense of inner authority, and growing into my feminine power. Reflecting on the teacher training experience, I can honestly say that I feel like I’ve uncovered a sense of empowerment that translates into every area of my life. Standing in front of a room and owning what I have to offer is a muscle I’m still building, and the training experience has been a powerful catalyst. The heart behind why I practice yoga–showing up and cultivating a sense of inner calm even in the midst of difficult situations–has become a centering mantra for how I hope to keep moving through life. There’s something about dancing along the edge of what you thought you were capable of and coming out the other side that deeply marks you. The support and camaraderie I found throughout the training experience—from the teachers, guest facilitators, other trainees, to the entire HYEN community–has helped me feel more tethered and at home when I walk into the studio. Rather than my coming and going to classes feeling transactional, solely focused on what I’m receiving–I’ve started viewing each class as a gift and exchange of energy. It’s a gift to take a class led by someone who has put in the work to offer a well-honed dialogue, thoughtful presence, and clear directions. And every time I walk into a room to bring my unique voice and person to a Dialogue that’s been handed down and refined for years, I dip my feet into a river that nourishes. I’m slowly but surely inching my way closer to my core and inner power, and I’m grateful for the ways this training has brightened my path along the way.

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From: Allison Fallon
I started going to yoga about six weeks before everything fell apart. My husband-at-the-time and I had been trying to have a baby for almost two years at that point, and I was starting to lose hope that it would ever happen for us. But I heard a story about a woman who struggled with fertility for years, and when she started a regular yoga practice, she became pregnant within six months.
That was enough to convince me.
I walked down the street and signed up.
It had been a few years since I’d been in a regular routine of moving my body, but it didn’t seem like all that long since I’d been a distance runner. I had completed several half-marathons and a full marathon. So when the instructor suggested that for my first few classes I should focus on simply staying in the room, I balked a little.
I mean, how hard could it be to stay in a room?
That was before the class started and the heat pressed in and I realized how far you can get from yourself without even knowing it; how long you can go without paying any attention to the fact that you have been barely breathing.
Those first few classes were miserable.
I felt like I might be dying—and I was barely doing anything. Just sitting there on my mat. The only reason I kept coming back was that the instructor said yoga would help us to get three things, and I wanted each of those three things:
1. More love
2. Less fear
3. More of what we want in our lives.
I hoped she was right. I hoped yoga would help me get what I wanted.
Six weeks later, everything fell apart.
It was a normal Thursday afternoon when I uncovered the truth of my marriage, and suddenly the fact that we hadn’t been able to become pregnant wasn’t the problem anymore. The day I found what I found, a friend asked me if I was surprised, and I told a her to imagine she had been in a fist fight for years with a blindfold on.
Then today, someone took the blindfold off.
No, I was not surprised.
We hold truths in our bodies that are too big for our minds.
The irony is not lost on me that I went to yoga to get pregnant and instead ended up getting a divorce. But I am learning the hard and beautiful truth that sometimes what we think we want is not what we actually want, and that the process of getting what we want usually involves several things we did not want at all.
 So I kept going to yoga.
One of the things I have loved most about yoga is that there is nowhere to hide.
In life we hide behind make-up or name brands or job titles or relationship statuses. In yoga, in that hot room with all those smelly, sweaty not-so-covered-up bodies, there is nowhere to go except… right there.
In the truth.
The fleshy, terrible, magical, beautiful truth of you.
It’s a terrifying and beautiful thing to to see yourself so completely.
To look at where you are weak or soft or grieving or heartbroken and let love go there.
What a strange and petrifying feeling to find that all the pieces of the puzzle you had been fighting to hold together weren’t even your puzzle pieces in the first place, and that all that love you were dying to have had always been right there in front of you.
All you have to do is get soft enough to receive it.
All you had to do was stop trying so hard, and relax enough to let it in. That winter, I filed for divorce.
I walked into the attorney’s office and did the thing I swore to myself I would never do, the thing I had judged others for doing, the thing I had wanted to do for longer than I could even allow myself to admit. The truth does this to you, I guess. Humbles you. Makes you human again. Gets you back into alignment with yourself.
Yoga does this to you.
More love.
Less fear.
More of what you want in your life.
And after signing all of those terrible, beautiful, life-altering papers, I went to yoga again. I fought and cried and melted into my mat again, and again and again.
It was all I had. My offering. It was all it took.
What I’m learning from yoga is the same thing I’m learning from the rest of my life—which is that we are entitled to our efforts, but not to our outcomes; that we can either be in control, or be in love, but not both.
I’m learning to be in love. I’m choosing to be in love.
 Several things have changed in my life since those early days of yoga—beyond the fact that I am finally breathing again. I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I sleep better. I have better tools to calm my own anxiety. I’m more focused and productive. I feel more confident, more capable.
I’m stronger and also softer. I’ve even fallen in love.
And although in those early days yoga seemed like the hardest thing I had ever done, I’m learning now that it is also the easiest—the easiest and the best and the most life-changing thing you could ever do, showing up. Getting on your mat. Starting where you are.
Giving it all you have.
Slowly, without even knowing it, we are all getting where we’re trying to go.


Step 1 – Admittance: I am a Bikram yogi. I am continually in love with, healed by, and captivated with this addiction. It is an incessant influence, a time-consuming preoccupation, but predominantly worthwhile addiction. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here now, having the gift of a yoga studio where I get to share my passion for yoga with others and, hopefully, give them something that will also change their lives. But the journey has had its ups and downs. In fact, I’ve come full circle with the practice.

Myself and most anyone who has practiced the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises that were taught to us Americans by the now-notorious Bikram Choudhury and his guru, Bishnu Ghosh, has likely experienced both love and hatred for this practice, and skepticism about its founder. But I’m not interested in talking about the man today; I want to talk about the practice. That journey through being broken down, built up, humbled, empowered, opened, closed off, stretched, compressed, emptied out, filled up, never-the-same-again yoga revelation. Bikram was the first and only kind of yoga I knew for the first 8 years of practicing.

My feelings about this style over more than a decade range from “I can barely get through a class” to “I can still barely get through a class.” The challenge never changes. It is always hard, physically and mentally. Yes, over 10 years or longer, it never gets easier. But it does become different.

My original teacher was explaining how a posture works and said, “when you’re a beginner – you know, the first 10 years of practice…” Wait, WHAT? …. You’re a beginner for the first TEN years? I laughed in my head when I heard him say that because I considered myself at least intermediate-level by that point – but now, after 10 years, I’m beginning to understand.

There have been, and will be, many seasons of my Bikram journey – times when I hated Pranayama breathing (the first breathing exercise), another when I was tediously impatient in Half Moon, periods when I am in love with Standing Bow, and seasons when I deeply dreaded Camel. There are times when I fall from a posture and an unexplainable flood of tears comes to my eyes, and there are times when I laugh out loud. There are times when the postures hurt and times when the postures heal.

Step 2 – Faith: It was this last part of the journey that has really challenged me over the last four years. I had an injury. An un-diagnosable pain in my right hip. I went to all the doctors, physical therapists, Rolfers, acupuncturists and chiropractors. Finally, I took a break. I took a break from yoga for two months. It was something I thought I would never do. I had practiced for nine years, at least five to seven times a week. I rarely missed a day; sometimes I would even do two classes a day. Then I remember the day, as I was laying in savasana, feeling defeated from the pain and the lack of mobility that I once had, I realized that it wasn’t fun anymore, so I decided right at that moment, I would let it go… for a while anyway.

When I came back to the mat, I approached everything very carefully. Every posture. I made sure to really keep my core engaged and not overdo it in postures just to look a certain way. It felt a lot better but the hip was still not fully recovered. I started back in just a couple times a week and eventually added different yoga disciplines – vinyasa power flow and eventually Buti yoga. The new practices and new postures opened up certain areas and strengthened others. It turned out to be the perfect complement to my Bikram yoga practice, and I began to realize that the answer was, as Bikram himself would prescribe, “more yoga.” Well, not exactly… first I needed a break and then I needed more yoga, and different kinds of yoga. The thing about the 26 postures is that it is a lot of repetition, and if you are not careful or practicing with proper form with muscular support, then the repetition can be hard on certain joints. The bikram dialogue is designed to ensure that you do practice the postures correctly but, depending on your skeletal structure, your joints and the stress your life may have brought them thus far, there is the potential for repeated stress to occur and even potential injury.

Although I now have a love and appreciation for many different styles of yoga, I have an even stronger faith in Bikram yoga and a deeper appreciation for it. For all my ups and downs with the practice, I have always admired this elegant series – these 26 postures and the brilliance of their sequencing. The heat, the mirrors, the dialogue, they are added tools, which all work together to force out any opportunity for outside distraction. We are truly forced to concentrate and given the opportunity to be fully present. There’s really nothing else we can do. Just yesterday during a class, the dialogue made more sense than it ever had. Same words I’ve heard a thousand times but they were once again new to me. The words were all I heard… my mind was blank but for these words: “PUSH your stomach, hips thighs forward!” I did so, and it worked. Another layer stripped away. In final savasana, I had peace in my mind about something I’d been worried about all day. It wasn’t the first time these things had happened. They can happen any and every time we practice this series. No matter how many years we’ve practiced this yoga series, there is always something to learn, and it will always be a great accomplishment to finish the class.

So far, in my first 10 years as a beginner of bikram yogi, I have learned some of the greatest lessons and habits of my life. Habits that have helped me through every scenario – heartbreak, anxiety, worry, opening businesses, friendships, and marriage. I wanted to share just a few of these with you:

  • If you can, you must (Bikram Choudhury).
  • Don’t react or attach to the pain or the victory. Calmly observe it and let it pass by so you can give your full energy to the present.
  • Let nothing steal your peace. (Bikram Choudhury)
  • Don’t waste your energy on the things you cannot change.
  • Transcend discomfort by sitting with it, allowing it to be part of you as you move with it until it is no longer there.
  • If you are trying correctly, even if only able to do just a small step of the full posture, you will receive 100% of the benefits.


By Eleanor Self

My yoga story is still mostly ahead of me, but this is the story of just getting to that first class.

A wise woman once said, “You’ve gotta go there to get there.” Actually, the wise woman was Hannah, and if you’ve been in her class, you know she’s said that WAY more than once. But it’s true. If where you want to be is not where you are, then the only way to get to where you want to be is to go. Go there – the place you want to be. That applies to life in general as well as yoga. You’ve gotta go there to get there.

But on the way to going there and getting there, you will encounter obstacles. There will be detours and there will be some points along the journey where you just can’t seem to get there from here. Sometimes those points are in your own head.

That’s where I was in November of 2013, stuck at a point at which I just couldn’t get there, stuck in my own head. I wanted to start a yoga practice, but it was way too scary for me – just walking into a yoga class with no idea what to expect. I was sure everyone would resent my presence, and I was more than sure that the anxiety I would endure would be more miserable, more tormenting than anything thing that could happen on the mat.

Just to try to get some familiarity, I booked a private lesson with Brooke. My plan was to start going to group classes right away. But that “right away” turned into a year and a half.

The road to starting a regular practice was a lot more twisted than the few blocks straight up Gallatin Pike. Many times I tried to go back for a class but was overwhelmed by the feelings that I didn’t deserve to do it, that I clearly didn’t belong there, and I would ruin it for everyone else by just being there. You name it, I thought it, and over and over, I let it shut me down.

Here are some of the road closures I found in my own head and the detours I took to get around:

“You know how you get lost – even places you’ve been before. If you try to go you won’t even find it.” I started driving the route home from work that takes me by the studio. I would make a point to look at the building to prove to myself I knew where it was. I pulled into the parking lot from time to time to prove to myself I could find it consistently.

“You’re too scared. If you do go, you’ll just have a crippling stomachache and you won’t be able to do anything.” I started visiting the HYEN website. I posted questions on a local listserve to see if anyone had been there and what they had to say about it. I Googled Hot Yoga of East Nashville and just looked at reviews and anything I could in an attempt to reduce the strangeness and curb the jitters. The web perusing didn’t help a lot, but I did find that awesome unlimited 30-day Groupon.

“You will be so conspicuous walking across that parking lot. You don’t even know how to carry your stuff.” I made it my business to find out how to carry my stuff. I Googled “celebrities going to yoga” just in case there were pictures of famous people walking into yoga class. There are. Starlets and reality notables seem to favor holding a rolled mat or towel in the crook of one arm with a water bottle in that same hand and then keys or phone in the opposite hand. I did a trial run in the kitchen to see if I could do that. I could.

“The other customers will hate you. Thin, healthy people don’t even want to look at someone who is out of shape and overweight. If you go, they will all be mad at you for ruining their day.” Through this whole time, the same quote seemed to pop up everywhere “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Over the course of that year and half, life peppered me with that quote. If I turned on the TV someone said it. If I checked Facebook it was posted in a cute little frame. I overheard it in conversations, saw it printed everywhere. Eventually, I believed it. I stopped trying to be responsible for the happiness of people who don’t even know me, but might be more content if I don’t cross their sightline.

“Maybe someday.” By June of 2015, the expiration on the Groupon was still far in the distance, but I joined a weight loss and fitness challenge which required 30 minutes a day of physical activity. I tried going for walks around the neighborhood, but I was just too scared to keep it up. Inside the yoga studio was the only place that seemed safe enough, and offered the accountability of the challenge, which meant I had to do it now.

I gathered up my stuff to go to yoga, but a couple of steps from the door I was overwhelmed by the negative thoughts and just lost all energy. I kept repeating this attempt for a few days. I started feeling like I needed to give my son some sort of explanation for the behavior he was seeing. I told him, “ I want to go to yoga but some days I feel too afraid and some days I feel too depressed.” He did what was probably the best thing he could have: he gave me a pleasant but puzzled, “why are you telling me this?” look as if what he was seeing wasn’t actually even crazy.

I decided I would keep making this attempt over and over. I would keep going to the door, or to the car, or a block down the road, as far towards a yoga class as I could, as many times as it took because, surely, this would not go on forever. Through the end of 2013, all of 2014 and the first half of 2015, small pieces had fallen into place and I really felt like any minute there would be some great positive inspiration that would boost me out the door. Unexpectedly, it was one really bad day that finally did it.

June 16, 2015 was a really horrible day at work – upsetting and just miserable. I felt depressed and hopeless as I began my commute. I went through my routine of attempting to go to yoga with no expectation that this day would net any more progress than usual. I headed for the front door, bracing for the wave of negativity to hit and shut me down. It didn’t happen. I already felt about as bad as I could, and in a strange way that protected me from feeling any worse. I reached the door, went through it and kept on going until I made it inside a yoga class.

Yes, I did feel just as conspicuous crossing the parking lot and in the class as I expected to, but I had finally made it there! And it was worth it. I made it through the 90 minutes of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. I noted feeling a sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t easy, but it felt good to conquer my fears, cancel out the worries, and cross all of the obstacles to get there. And I kept coming back.

The physical changes I’ve experienced have been remarkable. By the time my Groupon was used up I was hooked. I had started the month exhausted and in pain from my forehead to my feet. Now, all my aches and pains were resolving and I felt strength and energy building.

Turns out my worries of not being accepted were unfounded; people were either friendly, or engrossed in their own practice, mostly friendly. After a few classes I began to understand what “group energy” meant and to feel like I was a valuable contribution to the whole.

I’m finding the yoga practice itself not to be unlike the process it took to get here. The growth happens in the repeated failures, which afford me the opportunity to show myself grace and start again… over and over until the failures don’t feel like failures at all. They’re just opportunities to practice. Sometimes the process feels really good, sometimes it really doesn’t. Often the things that don’t feel good, mentally and physically, are what move me forward.

I’ve heard so many great quotes from all the yoga teachers, too many to list them all, but I started with one of the first things I heard Hannah say and I’ll end with a recent one from Adam, “Don’t let your final expression be you bailing on the pose!”

The reward is not really in the final success, but in the stubborn, continual trying.

By |December 10th, 2015|Yoga Story|0 Comments


From my previous entry, Breath is Life: My first Bikram yoga class was in Feb. 2002, and I became certified by Bikram to teach in June 2006. Yoga teaches me daily (on and off the mat) concepts like discipline, determination, concentration, faith, patience, strength, flexibility, balance … really, all just other words for “awareness.” For me, the most important lesson is to breathe. Yoga teaches me to breathe in what I need and breathe out what I don’t.

Breath Is Life part 2

For me, yoga just kind of “showed up.” During the same week in 2002, I had three different friends on three separate occasions tell me about a “new” yoga they discovered. It was called “Bikram.” A 90-minute class, it was practiced in a HOT room, with humidity. It was the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, done in the same order every time. I had never been to a yoga class. I was curious about the yoga, but mostly intrigued by the coincidence.

My first class was like so many others’ – I was hot, I sweat more than I thought humanly possible, I was nauseous, I was exhausted, I was overwhelmed. Despite all of that, I distinctly remember looking around and feeling, rather than seeing, that the other people in class knew something that I didn’t know. I wanted to know what they knew. So, I went back. By my third class, I was hooked. I went another 3 times the next week, then 4 times the next week, 5 times the week after that. By the end of my first month, I had signed up for the 60-day challenge; 6 days a week for 10 weeks. Holy cow, what a challenge! The deep detoxification process revealed something I was not previously aware of. It was anger, massive amounts of anger. I would twitch, and itch and scratch, and toss and turn. I would do anything I could to avoid feeling what I was feeling. I had never felt so much anger and it scared me. I worried. What if I scream? What if I explode? What if I yell AT someone?! I would panic and hold my breath. Fortunately, I had very patient, kind, observant AND firm teachers. They would tell me “Wendy, breathe”. They would remind me, “you have a choice; you can panic and head down the road of emotion or you can breathe and let that energy go.” E-motion is literally energy in motion, after all.

Fast-forward to July 10, 2005. I was rounding out three years of solid practice. I was averaging 5 classes a week. I’d completed two additional 60-day challenges during that time. I’d attended 3 posture clinics and even spent a weekend in L.A. with Bikram and 1,500 other crazy yogis at the Yoga Expo. The practice had changed my life, cleaned me out, and I had my sights on teacher training.

Then came a day that I will never forget. I was in my home office, working on a project. I heard a loud buzzing sound. I thought it was coming from my computer. When I stood up to look behind the monitor, I was hit with a wave of vertigo. I felt dizziness so intense that I fell to the floor immediately. This is where my memory gets spotty. I know I felt exceptionally disoriented, but also felt a strong need to get to my bedroom. I tried getting up, but my body wouldn’t work. I couldn’t get my arms or my legs to move. Somehow, I managed to stumble and fumble and crawl to my bedroom. When I reached my bedroom, I collapsed, thinking “this is good enough.” My roommate was home at the time. I heard him come out of his bedroom and I tried to yell for him. My mouth wouldn’t work. No words would come out. No sound would come out. I couldn’t use my tongue. I kept trying to make noise but all I could produce was a quiet little buzzing breath, not even “haaaaaa.” I laid there, basically immobile. I listened to him walk down the stairs, pick up his keys, walk out the door, start his car and drive away. I still had no idea what was happening to/with me but I also knew it wasn’t good. All I could think was “I’m alone.” I could feel panic rising in my chest, up through my throat. A voice came to me “breathe” and I inhaled. “Breathe” and I exhaled. “Breathe” and I remembered my yoga classes. “Breathe” and I remembered all that anger. “Breathe” and I remembered all the panic. “Breathe” and I remembered I had a choice. “Breathe” and I chose to breathe. And then I passed out or fell asleep – I’ll never know.

I don’t know how long I was out, but when I woke up, I couldn’t see. My eyes were crossed and blurry. Half of my face was numb and limp. Most of my limbs were like boneless chickens – flimsy. Long story a little shorter: I managed to knock my phone off my side table. I called my friend using my nose. I made vague words and strange grunting noises curious enough that she decided to come over. After medical attention, I found out I had a stroke. After extensive testing, I found out it was the likely result of a birth defect. I had a hole in my heart. Days went by and I had limited control of the left side of my body. I lost a significant portion of peripheral vision on my left side as well.

At the time, I could not explain why but I felt that an integral part of my healing would happen in the hot room. I insisted that I go there. I called in favors, asking friends to drop me off and take me home. The lack of balance and mobility did not stop me. There was little that I could actually do. I was convinced, however, that I needed to get blood to my head as soon, as often, and as much as possible. Not just any ol’ blood either. I wanted fresh, oxygenated blood. I knew the most effective way to do that was with that series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. I became particularly aware of any and all postures that gave me the benefit of head-below-the-heart. I focused most of my attention on those postures. I was diligent, making sure I was breathing before, during and after each posture. My brain depended on it.

Over time, moving at my own pace but with consistent practice, my coordination returned. I was also able to reduce the size of the blind spot on my left side. I had a talk with my neurologist and told her the story of that day. She later commented that it was highly likely that my choice to breathe in those critical moments saved my life. Hearing her say that convinced me that I had to find a way to get to teacher training, sooner or later. I remain convinced that part of the reason I am still on this planet is to pass along the message of how important it is to learn the power of your own breath.

The hole in my heart is fixed. I now have titanium plugging it up. That’s another story for another day/blog/post. It’s a good thing I live in Nashville – Music City. Eventually, I will write a song about a titanium heart.

By |October 12th, 2015|Yoga Story|2 Comments


One of the most consistent themes throughout my arts education was Creation from Chaos. Out of the debris left over from trauma or turmoil or pain rises the universally desired phoenix: art. Art is a response to the suffering related with the human condition. Once all of our problems are solved, we will be so comfortable on our fluffy pillows and piles of money that we’ll lose that friction that strikes the match of inspiration. Right?

In college, as I began to grow into my adult personality, I struggled with a strange dichotomy: a naturally Type-B personality coupled with a newfound perfectionism. I have always been a person who could easily become obsessed with a subject or activity, such as listening to the same song 40 times in a row or reading the same book every few months, but my obsessions had never manifested into diligence. Somehow I became addicted to making 100% on every assignment. Not A’s. 100% specifically. That takes many, many hours of memorization. So I became obsessively diligent about my schoolwork, and a whole mess of issues ensued. I worried. I didn’t sleep. I became extremely anxious and thought I had every disease I ever heard about. At the same time, I was more creatively inspired than ever before.

I had heard of yoga before, but resources were limited in central Alabama. The only experience I had with it was doing a beginner’s yoga DVD with my dad when I was in high school. I remember the instructor (Rodney Yee) saying, “Relax your eyes…” in a very chill voice, which sent us both into a fit of giggles. How could you relax your eyes?!

One day during my sophomore year of college, my music theory professor announced that his wife would start leading a twice-a-week yoga class that would be free to students. It sounded like something I needed, so I went. It was literally right next to the pool in the gym. I was surrounded by the sounds of gasping, arms and legs slapping the water surface, my mat was peppered with droplets from a rogue kick and all I could do was make to-do lists in my head, but somehow, I felt better after 45 minutes of just being on my mat. I started allotting myself two hours a week for yoga. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a teacher, and before doing any other yoga besides the poolside class, I began to offer short yoga classes to my fellow theatre students. I would work at the coffee shop from 5:30-8:30 AM, then go to the theatre building to teach yoga on stage from 9:00-9:30 before our classes started. I loved teaching and looked forward to it constantly, even though it only happened once a week or so.

As the benefits began to emerge, I worried. What if finding peace from my snowballing thoughts kept me from being struck with the lightning bolt of inspiration? Some of my best writing happened when I was pacing my apartment at 3 AM.

I pocketed that fear and went on to graduate and moved to Chicago the very next day. The city was cold and grinding, so naturally, my artistic life was thriving. I immediately started doing improv at The Second City, joined a comedy team, and started playing keyboards in a band. Life was as hectic as I thought it should be, and yoga was a tiny memory by then.

I noticed a consistent steeling of myself against other people. Maybe it was the North frosting me over or maybe it was the fact that I was still slinging coffee for a living, but I began resisting having meaningful interactions with most people. I became paranoid and hyper-vigilant, even to the point of thinking that coworkers were conspiring against me. My insomnia increased. Having anxiety or panic attacks was part of a normal week. I threw myself into ridiculously strict diet patterns. I worked, went to rehearsal, went to band practice, and watched a lot of movies on Netflix instead of sleeping. That was the way life was supposed to be. It pretty much sucks, and then you create something.

Erika (my bandmate and now roommate) called one day and invited me to take a free week of yoga with her at a studio in the South Loop. I went. Long story short, we were both hooked. We did a work/trade to keep going to yoga after our free weeks ended. I was not strong or flexible at all, so the flow classes proved to be a huge disappointment for me. I started with Hot 26, which was difficult yet attainable. I remember the first time I found my own eyes in the mirror during Tree and saw that my face was hardened. I softened my jaw and relaxed my eyes. Ah ha, then. Thanks for planting that seed, Mr. Yee, even though it took me 7 years to understand you.

I started sleeping better (i.e. actually sleeping). I started softening towards other people. I began to hear between the lines when someone spoke to me. This was the first thing that made me realize I was becoming a better artist. I noticed more. I was able to see bigger pictures. My writing seemed more cohesive and infinitely more relatable. I really felt like I was moving back into my childhood home in a good way. I was returning to a sense of self that had been gone from me for a long time. By losing my me-against-the-world mindset, I was allowing myself to truly experience unbridled joy and honest gratitude once again.

Later, I would come to understand my problem as being an imbalance of the ayurvedic dosha vata. When someone has too much vata, he or she becomes cold and anxious, is prone to insomnia and paranoia, and is very scattered.

I took Abnormal Psychology this summer to fulfill a prerequisite requirement for the graduate school program I will soon be applying to. Basically, there is a widespread notion that artists are crazy, and that the craziest people make the most brilliant art. However, that is not actually the case. To sum it up, while a person who has a psychological or emotional disorder may create more artistic output when in a state of disturbance, the quality of the output is inferior to the work that same artist does when he or she is stable.

Now I see the importance of balance. I see the importance of what we refer to as “your edge.” Recognizing your edge and staying close to it is an important concept to growing in your yoga practice on the mat, but off the mat it translates into the choices you make. Living close to your edge means that you are constantly reassessing what works and what doesn’t work. You are changing, growing, strengthening, welcoming challenge, and thereby welcoming change. Diligence, while certainly a virtue, is also a part of balance. You can overdo diligence to a point of just setting fancy rules and not really listening to yourself.

Now, I am very much looking forward to reentering the world of academia with a little more self-awareness and a few more tools under my belt. The thought of taking a giant leap deeper into my understanding in my field of study is exciting, not daunting. I have a loose plan for the future, but I don’t really know what it will hold. What I do know is that I will forever be a student of yoga.

By |October 5th, 2015|Yoga Story|0 Comments


How did I get here?

It was a rainy, grey morning, as usual come mid-November in Seattle. I was looking out the window from the warmth of my blanket cocoon on the couch, contemplating the 9-mile run I had planned for the morning. I was training for some-such marathon or half marathon, and I had just about reached the end of my self-motivation rope. My “no excuses” policy for my running schedule was just wanting to be broken so badly that morning. Meanwhile, my roommate Amber bounced down the hallway in her yoga gear. “Wanna come to Hot, Steamy Yoga?” She never called it just “Hot Yoga.” Always, “Hot, Steamy Yoga.” Well, the answer in my head was “No,” I had never once in my life even considered that hot yoga thing. It sounded like torture. I could torture myself with running but not heat. She then said, “My aunt did hot, steamy yoga for a month, and she had such a bangin’ bod afterwards. It burns like a thousand calories each class.” SOLD! She said the magic words. Burns calories… approximately equivalent to what I would have burned running 9 miles. It was settled, I would trade in my run for the hot, sweaty yoga class, avoid the rain, and come out even.

I don’t remember that much of the class. I don’t remember it being that difficult or even that hot. I remember the teacher. He was a gentle giant. Robert – salt and pepper hair, tiny spandex shorts and a hairy chest. I still take Robert’s class whenever I’m in Seattle. He has the kindest eyes, the calmest voice, and you just know that he wants you to be at ease – in his studio, in your body, in life. He always knows the new student’s name and always encourages them throughout their first class. Well, anyhow, I made it to final savasana. The heat didn’t do me in, and I didn’t feel that different after class but what left a strong impression on me was the teacher and the other students. I’ll never forget their unwavering focus for 90 minutes of energy and sweat, their forearm veins in final expression of Standing Forehead to Knee, their quiet reverence for the practice as they entered and exited the room. I thought about it later that day, and the day after that, and so on… I found myself back in that unique-smelling, carpeted room the following week. I just HAD to try it again. Maybe someday I could be like those other people.

Ten years later, it still has me. There is just nothing else like it. Like an old friend inviting you in for some tea and a chat. Nothing else like this series can transform my mind from chaos to calm in just 90 minutes. To change my outlook on a problem from frustration to patience. To broaden my perspective. To forgive someone. To see the answer I needed to find. I’ve said this before but I think that all of the important decisions in my life, I’ve made during a Bikram yoga class. Well, that or while running. Sure, my body has been transformed too. For the first year that I practiced, I could not bring my foot up any higher than my calf for tree pose. I can’t really even remember who I was, how I looked before this yoga but I think I can safely say that it has refined every bit of my being “inside out, bones to skin,” and especially my mind and heart.

My teachers at Bikram Yoga Seattle were a constant inspiration. Their practices – so elegant, their teaching – so brilliant, their presence – strong and calm. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be one of them. If I was lucky enough to get to the studio early and have their attention before other students showed up, I would ask them about their Teacher Training. One of them said, “After training, I felt like I could do anything.” I was inspired. Maybe a bit covetous to have that feeling. I would go to the internet and explore the Bikram website and dream of applying for the training. It didn’t seem feasible though. When would I fit it in? How could I afford it? I couldn’t leave my boyfriend for 2 months. Ridiculous thoughts like that.

Well, a boyfriend less later, and a Christmas bonus richer, I found myself applying to a teacher training. It wasn’t the Bikram training that I’d always wanted to do, but it happened to be in this place, Nashville, which I had an irrational dream of moving to.

The training was uneventfully completed (I kept it a secret from my work so there was no announcing of things on Facebook during that time), and I had been slowly dreaming up the idea to open a studio in East Nashville. Though it made no sense to leave a perfectly great life in Seattle, a friend one day told me, “If anyone can do it, you can.” I knew it was true. My yoga had taught me that already. So, here I am.