An honest *AF* recap of my first full year as a yoga teacher
First things first:
- I can’t believe I used “AF” in the title of this blog post.
- This is a pretty lengthy read. So, hang on and get comfy.
A few days ago, I “Googled” my name to see what was out there on the Internet.
Whenever I have new students who join my classes, one of the first things I ask is “how did you learn about hip hop yoga and me?” Many will reference a TV segment, a post on Facebook or a recent news story.
I’m often smiling as I take it all in because the irony here is this: Becoming a yoga teacher was never a part of my plan.
It wasn’t anything I ever dreamed of doing.
As someone who is highly sensitive and has had to teach myself ways to look at life from a half full perspective, I was the last person I’d think could teach anyone how to chill the f*&$ out, breathe and love themselves a bit harder.
But here I am with a little over a year of teaching experience under my belt, and I’ve become a pretty well known instructor in Atlanta.
A host of life experiences brought me to this practice: my scoliosis, heartbreak, PTSD from being a victim of an armed robbery (watch my video talking about this experience here or read about it here), a bout of depression and an overall yearning to love myself like I never have before.
But an even bigger calling led me to becoming a teacher: I wanted to see more people of color make their way onto a yoga mat and experience the benefits that this ancient practice has on the mind, body and spirit.
I wanted to see people who look like me choose self-care first.
And in just 365 days, I’ve seen more diversity in my classes than I’ve ever seen in my years of practicing yoga.
So. This means, I’m onto something.
To say the least, 2017 has been a phenomenal year for me as a yoga teacher, business owner, and for my personal life as well.
As I look back and reflect on all of these moments, I wanted to share with you some of my highlights, challenges, and lessons learned from the last 365 days…shall we?
1. Hip Hop Yoga received a ton of press. I’ve been fortunate to share my story and mission behind my classes with outlets like Ebony Magazine, Creative Loafing, Atlanta Magazine, Now This Her, Fox 5, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine, Natural Awakenings, Jezebel Magazine, Marietta Daily Journal and CBS 46.
2. I got to work with some cool companies: bringing Hip Hop Yoga to large diverse crowds. I led a free class at Topgolf, sessions at Athleta in Atlantic Station, and established a longstanding partnership with City Winery Atlanta: producing 5 sold out Hip Hop Yoga Warriors & Mimosas events this year. I also recently announced that I’ve been invited to take this event on the road in 2018 and I’ll be touring each City Winery location, which includes New York, Chicago, Boston, Nashville and Atlanta. DC is coming soon!
3. Teaching at a yoga festival was a big goal of mine and it happened way sooner than I expected. This year, the founder of Dirty South Yoga Fest, Jessica Murphy invited me to teach my Hip Hop Yoga Class for the opening night, which was a lot of fun.
4. I was a model for a new yoga apparel company called Alana Athletica. The new website will be launching soon and I can’t wait to see it. The pants are really amazing ya’ll.
5. I created and led my first workshop called “How to Get Unstuck and Make Sh*t Happen”. And then led two more after that. This is a passion project of mine because I always receive tons of messages from people wanting advice on how to really live a life they love. Because I can't personally meet every single individual in person, I felt this workshop would help me reach more people at once. Many have been following my journey before my yoga teacher days. It feels so good to take the conversations offline and connect with such a passionate and inspiring tribe in real life.
6. I created a new class for my students called Soulscape Sunday. Earlier this year I put feelers out on social media to gauge interest in a more soulful flow with a nice balance between stillness and movement. My students have taken a strong liking to this and really look forward to the artist features each Sunday.
7. I was invited to bring Hip Hop Yoga to the Atlanta University Center and started teaching Tuesday evenings for the students at Clark Atlanta University.
8. I logged 100+ teaching hours in Yoga Alliance!
9. I introduced hundreds of people of color to yoga this year.
10. Not related to my business, but something super significant for me: my broken heart healed this year. I know I’m not the only one out there who has suffered from intense heartbreak after parting ways with someone you once loved. I used to never think I’d feel better again. Until one day, I did. Thank you God for delivering my mind and heart. Thank you!
People I’m grateful for:
1. Leigh Anne Neal, the owner of Nirvana Yoga Studios has been such a blessing since the first day I met her. She discovered I was looking for a place to host my Hip Hop Yoga classes back in January, and was one of the first studio owners to offer her place for me to teach.
She didn’t make me do any kind of try out.
She didn’t try to alter my style of teaching.
She trusted me and gave me the freedom to show up for my students the way I felt was best.
She would show up for my Wednesday and Saturday classes to help me make cold towels for my 35+ students, and help them get situated.
She always offers me genuine words of support when I struggle with personal challenges. I can honestly say that Leigh Anne truly lives her yoga and I’m so blessed for our relationship.
2. What would I do without my roommate and friend Liz? We met in an online Facebook group and both found our way to Atlanta for similar reasons. I did my first yoga photo shoot with Liz as she was looking to add some new work to her portfolio. Fast forward several months and we started living together. In short, I can talk to Liz about anything. There’s no judgment in our friendship. All support. All love. As a fellow business owner, she understands the struggles of owning a business and she inspires me greatly to keep going.
3. My mom and sister have been my backbone this year, supporting me through all the triumphs and challenges in my personal and professional life. If you’ve attended any of my City Winery events this year, you could catch mom helping the 130+ attendees arrange their yoga mats with her microphone in hand, and my sis passing out raffle tickets at the door. I love them both so much.
4. My students! I’m so grateful to have been able to meet, teach and learn from an amazing tribe this year. There would be no Hip Hop Yoga or sold out events without the loyalty, support and dedication of each and every student who has showed up on their mat to dig deep within themselves and do the hard, but very rewarding work.
1. There’s a difference between running a business with assistance and running a business alone.
This year, I’ve been my own boss, marketing expert, social media specialist, customer service rep, bookkeeper, tour manager, and so much more. Not to mention, the most important part of being a yoga teacher is planning out classes, creating inspiring sequences and playlists, selecting soul stirring meditations and showing up for your students.
Keeping up with my own practice and self-care rituals is super important but often got pushed back earlier this year in favor of responding to an email or taking a meeting.
I’ve often gotten down on myself because of this and I felt like I couldn’t keep up with everything I worked so hard to create while simultaneously taking care of myself.
And with that came feelings of loneliness in the wee hours of the morning.
I’ve felt incredibly exhausted after teaching large crowds that I would have to sleep 10+ hours the next day just to fill myself up again. Finding that balance has been a challenge that I continue to work at: remembering that I must fill my own cup before I offer a drink to anyone else.
2. There’s a constant challenge that comes with being a yoga teacher.
We have to continuously ask ourselves: Am I truly living my own yoga? Am I incorporating the intentions I invite my students to set in class, in my own life?
Do I truly know how to let go of things that don’t serve me, or do I continue to utter those words because it sounds good and is a popular phrase in the yoga community?
Am I being kind to myself the way I ask my students to hug their knees into their chest and give themselves a big hug?
Does the person I portray myself to be online align with the person who is behind the screen in real life?
3. I struggled with feeling unable to turn away from my computer and phone a lot this year too.
On an average day, I’m alternating from responding to FB and Instagram messages and comments, to helping someone sign up for a class or workshop, to corresponding with studios and venues about upcoming partnerships and opportunities.
The notifications kept coming and I kept responding.
It started to feel like an addiction.
I didn’t want anything to go unanswered.
I didn’t want anyone to feel ignored, that I was unreachable or “too good” to respond.
I placed these self-imposed expectations on myself.
And on some days, I didn’t get any work done because of this.
In the later part of the year though, I started setting healthier boundaries and stopped feeling like I needed to respond to everything.
I started checking my notifications at certain times, and often turned my phone off when I spent time with my people.
4. Many may know that before I became a yoga teacher, I moonlighted as a travel writer. I’ve seen some amazing places like Indonesia, Australia, France, India, Dominica and Ireland. But as I’ve grown in my yoga business this year, my traveling became very limited as I focused heavily on building my brand and community in Atlanta. I struggled with not being able to pursue travel as much as I normally do. After all, travel is my greatest passion and I always crave experiencing new cultures.
Traveling keeps me inspired.
But 2018 will find me quenching that thirst again. I’ll be doing the Hip Hop Yoga tour with City Winery and I’m also working on some other projects that I’m not quite ready to reveal yet. :)
1. The biggest lesson I learned this year is the power of silence and humility.
Everything and everyone doesn’t deserve my attention, time or a reaction from me.
No one should be able to control your internal thermometer but YOU.
That said, there have been several mornings that I’ve awaken to messages from students, friends, etc. (love my tribe!), bringing my attention to other yoga teachers who have replicated some of my handwritten heartfelt Instagram captions word for word: passing them off as their own and not crediting me at all. I’ve had my personal pictures being used to promote other teacher’s classes and my workshop replicated in a very obvious way. I’ve also had studio owners leave fake nice comments on my events, pretending to support me with obvious ulterior motives.
The interesting part is I have worked directly with some, taken their classes and supported their business.
Through all of this, I’ve learned to look at this from a perspective of flattery instead of frustration.
But let me also pause and say this:
In no way am I taking credit for creating Hip Hop Yoga.
I didn’t invent Hip Hop.
And I didn’t create yoga.
But will I proudly pat myself on the back for being a black yoga teacher who pioneered Hip Hop Yoga in Atlanta? Yes.
That said, what’s for me will always be mine no matter what or who. Anyone can try to replicate something they see working well for someone else to make a quick buck. But my personal story, mission and the aura I bring to my craft will always, always be unique to me.
And in the wise words of someone I know, "there is room for everyone."
2. Yoga teachers are humans too.
I’m not perfect and don’t have to pretend to be just to sell out my classes, workshops or events.
I’ve learned that the people who stick with me through all of my imperfections, long winded social media posts, and raw honesty are my people.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
3. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything.
This year I became more guarded in whom I share things with. This lesson spilled over not just in my business, but also in my personal life with family and friends. I’ve had to pause and really reflect on the “advice” I was receiving many times to decipher if it was coming from a place of love or judgement.
What’s next for me?
What’s next for Hip Hop Yoga?
I usually don't like to publicly talk about things before they are finalized, but I will say you can expect more merging my passions of travel and yoga together, more products (t-shirts and ebooks!), and more events to continue bringing diversity to yoga.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for supporting me on this exhilarating ride thus far.
I’m excited to see the magic that unfolds in 2018.
Now it’s your turn.
What are some of your highlights, challenges and lessons learned in 2017? I'd love to hear in the comments.
Happy New Year ya'll!