I met Grace through a friend of mine a couple of years ago, and though we have a lot of similar interests, our paths rarely come across and I was happy to sit down with this lovely person for this interview to get a glimpse into her yoga teacher life and mind.
Grace currently teaches 6 classes at St. John’s University, Bronx House, and Belmars (boxing club). She has a full-time job at Hachette as a senior production associate where she worked for the past 10 years.
Grace candidly talks about her life before and after yoga in this interview.
Where are you from?
I’m from Queens, NY. I was born at St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and grew up in South Ozone Park and Woodhaven up until I was 30 something. Now I live in Yonkers, NY in Westchester.
What got you into yoga?
One day, a friend of mine that I reconnected with in 2008 said, “I’m a yoga teacher now,” and I was like, “I don’t know what that means but that’s great and...when are we going out?” (Laughs.)
I always noticed how calm she was and I said, “You are awesome. How are you so calm all the time?” and she said, “Oh, I don’t know.” She never pushed yoga on me or told me to come to a class. I would just pick her up or drop her off at the ashram where she lived. She rented a room at the ashram, Yoga Shakti Yoga Center in Queens at the time, where I did my yoga training later.
One day, I was really stressed out and I asked her about the yoga classes at Yoga Shakti, and she told me the first class was free.
So I went, and I was late, of course. I found a spot and rolled out my mat--they were in warrior 2--and I thought this would be so easy. Then I was in it and I kept thinking, “Oh my God, when am I going to get out? Why can’t I get out of it yet?” The teacher kept on saying, “Breathe, inhale and exhale,” and I was like, “I am breathing! When am I going to get out of this pose?” It came to relaxation and I thought, “What are we doing now? What are we doing now? What, you mean, close my eyes?”
But then I ended up loving it, probably after the class. I didn’t realize how much I needed it. I didn’t realize how much I needed that time out. I was stressed out because I was going through a lot of personal issues and really having a tough time where I was having to let go of a lot of relationships, and I didn’t know how to deal with that and I thought maybe drinking and going out and hanging out with people was the solution. Going to that yoga class by myself and closing my eyes in savasana was probably the best thing that happened. Since then, I went to class every week. And then I started going to class twice a week, and then I started going 3 times a week, and that’s where the transformation started and now here I am. So what got me into yoga is probably stress.
What made you decide to go into teacher training?
I was at the Sunday class at the ashram one day--and Sunday class is a big class where everyone goes and we have chai and snacks after and chit chat--and I said, “I’m thinking of doing the yoga teacher training,” to one person--it was this woman named Helen--and she said, “It will change your life.” She didn’t say anything else. I kind of looked away and thought, “How am I going to pay for this?” It was a lot of money for me at the time. So I emailed Mokshapria (director and teacher at Yogashakti Yoga Center) and told her that I was interested in doing the training but I really couldn’t afford it at the moment. She wrote back to say there were many things I could do to help her and that’s what she needed more than my money right now. She told me if I could agree to do an exchange with her, and I could pay what I could, she would use my services in the ashram and we could make it work.
I couldn’t say no to that. I was living in my apartment at the time and I decided to leave my apartment when the lease was up and moved back into my parents’ house. I told them I wanted to do the yoga teacher training and asked them if it was okay to live at home with them for at least a year while I did my training. They were very happy to have me live there and were excited for me and very supportive.
I wanted to share the benefits I was receiving from yoga physically, emotionally, and spiritually with other people and being a yoga teacher was the best way I knew how to do it. And the comment, “Yoga will change your life,” really stuck with me and I had to do it.
How has yoga changed your life?
Yoga has given me so much confidence, so much self-awareness, and so many more reasons to love myself. Many of us, including myself, tend to not like what we have and wish we were somehow different, but yoga has given me a boost of self-knowledge and self-acceptance. I think that’s so powerful, and when you have that yourself, you can encourage other people and show that they have it in themselves, too. It’s changed my life because I feel like I can do anything.
Before yoga, I was dependent on a lot of things: smoking cigarettes, drinking, going out, meeting guys, dating--I was dating a lot of guys I wasn't happy with before finding Joe (her fiance). I think how I was back then--I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence and I wasn’t self-sufficient--reflected on who I was dating.
Once I took the time for myself with yoga, I realized that I didn’t want to be in the kind of environment where I felt degraded. I became more self-sufficient, had more confidence, and accepted and loved myself. When that happened, I met Joe. What attracted Joe to me, I believe, was those qualities I developed within myself. Yoga changed my life in so many ways and in so many different capacities.
What do you like about teaching yoga?
I think I like the fact that I can take all of this excitement, energy, and enthusiasm within me and give it to my students and be like, “Here take this and make it your own excitement, make it your own experience, and take that from the mat and take it out when you go to work, when you’re on the bus, when you’re at the grocery store and make your life better and positive instead of being stressed out thinking they have to do this and that.”
I like giving students the ability to take the time out for themselves even if they're only with me for the last five minutes when they’re in relaxation. I think they'll take that experience to outside of the classroom and that they're almost kind of like being of service to other people they meet for the rest of the day after the yoga class. They feel better so that transfers over to whoever they come in contact with.
I like seeing their smiles after a yoga class. They’re feeling great, feeling awesome about themselves, feeling relaxed, feeling healed, and feeling open to whatever.
What are the challenges of teaching yoga?
Challenges that I come across teaching yoga is I feel like I need to also go to classes and make time for myself instead of just giving and teaching because my personal practice is just as important, but I have struggled to do that and continue to struggle to do that. Some days I get up early to do yoga and meditate before work and other days I keep snoozing because I want to sleep a little bit longer. So getting my own classes in, going to workshops, learning something new, and making time for that has been a challenge for me.
Within the classrooms themselves, challenges that have come up are things like somebody walking out of the class, but that's something that happens because they’re just not resonating with you; my energy doesn’t it mix with them on that particular day. I learned not to take that as offense. One day at St. John's there was a girl who kept checking her phone and I had to tell her to not check her phone again and that we were almost done. She got up and left and I felt really bad and guilty about it but I know it’s important to take the time out for yourself, and I also had to do that for other students’ sake as they were getting annoyed.
What do you do for fun?
I like riding my bike. Joe and I just got bikes in August and for the summer that was a great thing to do. I also like going to the beach in the summer. That has been my biggest thing whether with or without anybody. I just love being near the ocean. It’s very calming and meditative for me. I love being on the water whether it’s surfing or taking a stand-up paddleboard lesson, which I finally did this past summer. I really love being outdoors. Recently, I’ve been really enjoying being at home relaxing on the couch and watching my shows on netflix with Joe.
What inspires you?
I think knowing that I'm not fulfilled yet because I haven't given back as much as I'd like to give back--that's what inspires me. Knowing that there are services that young girls, teens, and children need that they're not getting--that inspires. And people that I meet inspire me to want to do more, to give more, and to not stop and keep going.
***You can follow Grace on Instagram @graceyoself for her lovely yoga pictures and more.