Everyday Goddesses: Kenzie Nguyen

One thing I absolutely love about writing this blog is being able to make connections with people from all over the country (and sometimes the world!) One of these connections is Kenzie Nguyen– a twenty-one-year-old college student who is fiercely passionate about helping people love their bodies and repair their relationships with fitness and food. Kenzie enjoys almond butter, roasted veggies, hiking, and a really good cup of coffee. She hopes to become a nutritionist and to work with women struggling with eating disorders, and currently is in the process of starting up her blog about body positivity and acceptance.

Kenzie and I met after she reached out to me on  Instagram, and since then we’ve had fascinating conversations about our personal revelations, views on health, and our similar passions for writing, yoga, and helping others. I knew instantly that Kenzie was an Everyday Goddess, and I’m happy to share her interview with you today.


What is your “story”? What led you to become the person you are today?

I suffered from an eating disorder for many, many years. It destroyed my mental, emotional, and physical health, and led me to a place of complete hopelessness and darkness. When I had hit rock bottom, I became determined to find the beauty in life beyond my eating disorder, and slowly but surely began my crawl out from the pit of self-criticism I lived in. I fought every day to rediscover who I was apart from my illness, and to recreate a healthy relationship with my body and food. Flash forward several years, and here I am. I love fitness for showing me what my body can do. I love food because it’s pretty damn delicious and keeps my body going. I have a passion for helping others redefine their relationship with food and fitness, and I find nothing more fulfilling than helping people learn to love themselves.

How has yoga factored into your current lifestyle and sense of self?

Yoga has helped me learn that it is okay to slow down. I used to think that exercise was purely about intensive, sweat-dripping cardio, so when I first started yoga, I didn’t get it. I used to get anxious and frustrated. I felt like if I wasn’t doing sprints then I wasn’t working out. But ever so surely something started pulling me back to the mat. And as I let myself be pulled further into my practice, I felt those thoughts of anxiousness and dissatisfaction with my body start to float away. Yoga started to become a place where I could explore what my body could do, what it needed. It became a place to clear my head and distance myself from whatever was going on in my life. It helped me become aware of the deep connection between my physical and mental state, and that is such a gift.


How do you view strength? How do you view strength in relation to femininity?

I think strength is something so unique because it can manifest itself differently in each person. I think being strong in terms of fitness is doing what works for you and your body. I think it means knowing when to challenge your body and when to be gentle with it. I am blessed to know so many strong women, and each of them are strong in their own ways. Some are yogis, some are crossfit powerhouses, some are gymnasts, some are dancers. And though their talents are different something that I really admire in all of them is the ability to care for their bodies. As women I feel like we are told all these different ways to abuse our bodies, but rarely are we told how to care for them. But I think it takes courage to go against those social grains and to listen to what you physically/emotionally/mentally/spiritually need, and I think that takes real strength.

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How would you describe the fearlessly authentic you?

The fearlessly authentic me marches to the beat of her own drum. She wears leggings because she feels her legs look good in them, and because they allow her to play and move hard. She tells her story of loss, of pain, of failure, and tells it from a point of having poured every ounce of strength into moving from those places getting to a place of freedom. She goes for days without brushing her hair because she doesn’t see the need. She eats almond butter and roasted veggies in impressive quantities. She cares deeply about helping others learn how to love their bodies, because she knows what it is to hate her own, and to learn to love it again. She devotes herself to love and to love and to love and to love. To love others, to love those who are hurting, to love herself. She is a fighter. She is a survivor. She is an imperfect, perfect human.

To read more about Kenzie and her story, check out her blog and follow her on Instagram. 

I’m Afraid to Admit That I’m Happy

It’s no secret that I do things differently.

It’s different to be a yoga teacher at 16. It’s different to start a blog about your deepest secrets. It’s different to live in a single dorm at college and openly admit that you aren’t seeking the “normal” college experience.  Clearly, I have no qualms about living my life the way want to live it, even if that means going against the social grain. But something I’ve come to realize is that while I have no problem admitting when things aren’t right for me, I have trouble admitting when things are right for me.

Although I entered college knowing that I’d made some fundamental changes to the “college experience” because it was what I’d decided would best suit my introverted nature, somewhere in the back of my mind I believed that I’d make some reparations once I got here. Sure, I’d be living in a single dorm because I valued alone time, but I figured I’d get to school and suddenly have a ton of people occupying it, even if they weren’t my roommates, because college is all about getting to live with your best friends all the time, right? And although I never partied at home, and don’t have a particular desire to party anyway, I figured I’d get on campus and end up going to a few here or there, because that’s just what happens, right? And I told everyone I’d be taking a sabbatical from teaching yoga in order to get acclimated and focus on school, but a week in I found myself turning in an application to teach at the rec center, because that’s just what I do, right?

I got to school, started living a life I’d specifically crafted to who I am, and suddenly felt the need to modify it based on arbitrary standards I’d set for myself.

And in fact, I started to feel guilty about it. I spend a lot of time alone here, because it’s something I genuine enjoy and find beneficial to my personal health. I like eating breakfast alone and reading a good book before class. I like going for a walk in the woods with a good podcast or some rare silence for company. I like unwinding at the end of the day in the comfort of my room. But every time I’d enjoy these things, I’d start to feel guilty. 

Everyone else refuses to eat until they can get their roommates or friends to join them. Everyone else seeks out other people for fun in their free time. Everyone else unwinds with their friends. I felt, in the form of a guilt that I carried with me throughout my day, that I was wasting the opportunity everyone glows about: meeting the most interesting, valuable, exciting people of their lives in university.

I felt guilty in another way, too: I felt as though my identity as a teacher was fading the longer I spent away from teaching. Since getting certified, the longest I’ve gone since teaching was a few days. Now it’s been a month. Teaching had become one of the biggest parts of my identity, and I was struggling to feel the weight of my self-importance without it.

In secret- and this was the source of guilt- I was kind of enjoying the time off. 

Turns out, it’s kind of nice to have free time. And turns out, three classes doesn’t sound like a lot on paper, but the time outside of the classroom far outweighs the time inside of the classroom. I’m used to cramming my schedule from morning until night with high school and teaching, with barely any room to breathe, and suddenly having a little bit time left over to read a book just for fun or go for a walk or- heaven forbid – do nothing at all was completely foreign to me. Sometimes I get to the end of a day of lectures and studying and think to myself, “I just don’t see how I could do this well and teach at the same time.”

Surely, it’s possible, because plenty of people make it happen every day, but it’s definitely not easy. I’ve never been one to make my life particularly easy, and having this opportunity to focus in on one part of my life has been a rare insight into what life can be when you’re not stretched to the seams with commitments. In fact, it’s opened me up to other parts of my life that I’ve allowed to slip a little: I’m reading more. I’m writing more. I’m seeking out new topics to write about and new venues to share them through. My creativity, which was once solely dedicated to new flows and playlists and themes of classes, has now expanded to encompass different parts of my life that I used to wish I had the capacity to explore.

This past weekend, I turned to my boyfriend and said in a whisper, as though it was some dark secret I was harboring, “Can I tell you something? Since I haven’t been teaching, my practice has gotten a lot better.”

It’s true. When I was teaching the most, my practice fell to the wayside. No matter how much you love your job and make it one of passion, it’s still work. And it’s tricky to leave your job and go do it on your own, for fun and self-growth. Or if I did practice, I was constantly thinking of cues, wondering how I could teach this or teach that. I’d taylor my practices to what I thought I could effectively teach and not to what felt good in my body or I thought would best serve me.

Without those pressures- that I’ll openly admit I put on myself – my practice has felt freer. Lighter. Stronger.

It’s taken me back to the roots of what it means to be a teacher. Someone recently reminded me: yoga healed me. Yoga changed me. The fact that I teach it is just me repaying what I’ve been given. In order to be a true, powerful, masterful teacher, I need to be humbled by my practice time and time again. I can’t attempt to make it a science or an obligation. I have to first be a true student in order to be a true teacher.

But I’ve also been reminded that although I’m not teaching asana, I’m still a teacher in other capacities, and arguably still a teacher of yoga in its broadest sense. I’m still spreading its teachings every day through my writings on my journey of self-acceptance and self-exploration. That’s the yoga. Not the down dogs. Not the handstands. Not the chaturangas. Not even the savasanas or the meditation. It’s the willingness to go inward and to explore- and ultimately, the greatest way we can teach is by living our truth and embodying authenticity in who we are.

I still strive to do that every day. Hence, I am still a teacher. I have not lost my identity because I’ve “lost” my job.

And while I recognize that I’m happier exploring college on my own and using it as an opportunity for finding myself first, and that I’m happier taking time off from teaching and focusing on my own practice and growth, I’ve still been feeling guilty.

I’m afraid to admit that I’m happy. I’m afraid to admit that I’m really someone who needs to do things “differently.” I’m afraid to the world that I’m happy not doing something that I really and truly love. I’m afraid to admit that I kinda don’t want to go out and make a ton of friends right now. I’m afraid to admit that this is my life, and how I live it is entirely up to me one hundred percent of the time.

I recently started reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson. If you haven’t read it- do it. I’ve read probably hundreds of self-help books, and this is by far one of the most accessible, realistic, and applicable ones I’ve ever read. Because there’s no bullshit. There’s no fluffy stuff. There’s real-life, nitty-gritty stuff. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from writing a blog whose manifesto is “talk about the shit you don’t want to talk about,” it’s that it’s the gritty shit that makes a difference in people’s lives.

The premise of Manson’s book is this: we’ve been trained by our emotions and society to give a lot of unnecessary fucks. We care about the kind of car we drive, the kind of house we live in, we care about the size of our flatscreen TV, we care about the social status our job gives us, we care about what other people think about us all of the time, no matter how happy we are in what we’re doing. And because we give a fuck about everything, we’re exhausted all of the time, sad all of the time, anxious all of the time, and we can’t figure out what’s truly important to us.

So here’s the idea: stop giving a fuck.

It’s not apathy, it’s choosing what to waste your energy on. It’s choosing to admit that not everything needs your full dedication and attention all of the time. It’s choosing to give a fuck about the things that really light you up, to give a fuck about the things that you’re passionate about, the things that make you feel like you’re really living life. So I’ve decided: I don’t give a fuck about what college is supposed to be like. I don’t give a fuck how other people are experiencing college. I don’t give a fuck about who’s eating lunch when and with who, about whether or not I’m the only one in the entire damn forest, about whether or not people are going to view me as more or less important based on the status of my teaching career.

Here’s what I give a fuck about: I’m happy.


Mental Illness is Not a Fatal Flaw

Before leaving for school, my friend gave me the book “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson.

If you’ve never read it, you absolutely should. It’s a hilarious woman’s take on navigating life while dealing with the effects and struggles of mental illness, taking something usually ostracizing and scary and making it accessible, understandable, and relatable in a way that doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself (a rare trait in the world of mental health literature). I read this book during my first few weeks of college, and, as it turns out, it was exactly what I needed to be reading.

This blog, and, in fact, my entire life as of now, is built upon the foundation of mental illness.

That’s probably a surprising statement to some people. Mental illness is usually seen as a weakness, as a character flaw that sometimes proves to be fatal. It’s because of this that mental illnesses are shoved in the closet and under the bed- rarely discussed in public, and if they are with the strong implication that having one is, quite possibly, the worst fate we could ever face. And while dealing with and struggling to overcome mental illness is a long, hard, brutally ugly struggle that I would never wish upon anyone, it is something that I’ve come to see as a large part of becoming who I am today.

I’ve struggled with an entire roll call of mental illness: anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and any multitude of subsets that falls under each umbrella. My life has been molded, shaped by the battle against my own mind, and in hindsight I can see how it’s changed who I am. Dealing with an invisible disease that is so misunderstood and so impossible to perfectly “cure” led to the development of traits that I’m grateful for today: tenacity, dedication, hope, and, in the fight to pull the skeletons out of my closet, authenticity.

Simply put: I learned how to talk about the shit I don’t want to talk about, and how to become a better person along the way.

But just because I’m aware of this and can see it now doesn’t mean that I always believe it. There are times, just as Lawson describes in her book, where I define myself only by my diseases. Times where I see only the things my disorder has made me do and not what I choose in spite of it. Times where I categorize myself as a “bad person” because I’ve done bad things that were beyond my control. There’s times where I have to live the shit I don’t want to talk about- and those are scary, painful times.

I’ve reached a point in my journey with mental illness and recovery from anorexia where I feel largely freed from the chains that used to weigh heavily on me. I’ve reached a point of peace where- despite being perfect- I feel more liberated, peaceful, and in control than I ever though I would be capable of. And this time, it’s true control, not the false sense of it my disorder gave me in the past. But the thing about disorders and mental illness is that there is no “cure.” You can’t take a test, get some blood work done, and have a doctor tell you, “Congrats! You’re cured! Enjoy the rest of your life and never think about your mental health again!”

These things linger just beneath the surface, and they are predators of opportunity. They feed on insecurity, doubt, fear, and changes that are beyond our control. They prey on our desires for familiarity and structure. And when the inevitable times in life come where we are uncertain and insecure, they strike.

Even knowing this, I went into college hoping for the best. Every therapist and doctor I’ve ever seen has given me the warning that college is a prime time for eating disorders and anxiety to pop back up and reappear with a vengeance, but I couldn’t help but hope I was going to be the exception. I wanted to be stronger than that, better than that. I wanted to prove that I wasn’t like everyone else, and my disorder was a chapter in my life that had ended with a firm period. Not an ellipses. Not a “To Be Continued.” Not a cliffhanger.

In my mind, there was no room for a sequel.

Because a sequel meant failure. It meant allowing a beast I’d fought so hard to defeat to strike me down. It meant being weak.

And so the first few weeks of college were a blow to my ego. I was uncomfortable. I was messing up left and right. I wasn’t finding fast friends and I was missing my community back home. I felt useless here, where I had no job other than school, which felt far more like an obligation than the opportunity it really is. And it’s no surprise that in the thick of that mess, I found myself feeling out of control- the very reason my life had spiraled into disorder four years ago.

It’s this lack of control that I found myself calling a friend at midnight one night, crying and telling them I’d realized I was doing things I hadn’t done in a long time.

I’m doing bad things,” I said desperately into the phone, “I’m being bad.”

I’d noticed little habits that I’d thought I had banished long ago creeping back into my routine. I found myself feeling stressed if I wouldn’t be able to practice or go to the gym, because in my mind it was an indication of a lack of self-discipline. I found myself obsessively dissecting every morsel of food that was put in front of me, even occasionally peering into the nutritional labels I’d fought so viciously to tear myself away from in the years before. I found myself laying awake at night, restless, wondering if the thoughts in my head would go away if I could just pace around a little, try to outrun the anxiety that was stirring up inside me.

Am I relapsing?” I sobbed into the phone, “I don’t want to go backwards. I’m so tired of this shit.”

“No.” They said, with patience I can’t imagine having if someone woke me up in the middle of the night to barely decipherable sobbing noises, “You’re not.”

“You’re not,” he explained, “Because you noticed what’s happening and you care this time. Last time you didn’t care. Last time you kept it a secret. Last time you didn’t ask for help.”

Something about the way he said this cut into my fears like a knife. He was right: my struggles with anorexia had always been something that I’d kept a secret to be protected with my life. When I’d been truly struggling, I was in the deepest shade of denial: denying the fact that I had a problem right up until the moment I was laying in a hospital bed with a million wires sprouting from my body. The fact that I’d had the awareness, the bravery to pick up the phone and tell someone I saw negative patterns reforming meant that something was different this time.

It meant that this time, I wasn’t relapsing: I was simply being human.

Imagine you have asthma. You’ve had it almost your entire life. When you were younger it was really bad, you’d have attacks so often that it impeded your ability to live a quality life. It isolated you from your friends, made you scared to play sports or run around. Eventually, though, you got help. You saw a doctor, got on medication, got an inhaler, and you were empowered to start living (and enjoying) your life again. You’re “recovered.”

Now imagine that a few years later, on a particularly hot and dry day at a dusty fairground, you have an asthma attack. It scares you for sure, and reminds you that you need to be aware of your surroundings and triggers for your attacks, but you simply use your inhaler, take some time to rest, and get back to living your life.

It’s the same way with mental illness. Just like the asthma, it’s a trait you’ll always have, something that you’ll always have to be aware of and something that you’ll always have to be careful about triggering or setting off, but it doesn’t define you. You don’t introduce yourself first and foremost as an asthmatic, then a person, it’s just something that runs in the background. And when something big comes up- like an asthma attack or a wakeup call to disordered habits reappearing- you don’t berate yourself for it.

You get the help that you need. You get back on your feet. And you move forward.

And just like the asthmatic in this scenario would grab their inhaler and take a minute to breathe, I turned to my own form of treatment. I slowed down. I got back into the habit of meditation that I’d dropped. I forced myself to be honest about my motivations behind my food choices and my exercise habits. I took a step back, tried to see my situation through someone I loved’s eyes, and simply got to work nipping bad habits in the bud before they could completely entangle me again.

I want to be very clear about something: this is what recovery looks like.

Recovery doesn’t look like never having a disordered thought again. Recovery doesn’t look like never feeling insecure or scared or out of control. Recovery doesn’t look like never falling back into old habits or never making poor decisions. Recovery doesn’t mean doing everything right.

Recovery means being willing to be honest. It means being willing to admit when things are slipping and being willing to ask for help when you need it. It means acknowledging that you’ve made some mistakes and slid backwards a little recently, but that it isn’t an excuse to let everything just slide back down to the bottom of the hill. Recovery isn’t always a pretty “happily ever after,” but it sure as hell is better than being consumed by an eating disorder.

And I’ll be honest, although I’ve written these words, they are still ones that I fight to believe every day. We are so often sent the message- from the media and from others in our lives- that mental illness is shameful and that if we aren’t completely free of our demons then we shouldn’t be happy with ourselves at all. Overcoming a lifetime of these messages takes time, and I struggled to write this piece and be honest about the fact that I’ve messed up recently.  

But I talk about the shit I don’t want to talk about. That just how I live now- with fearless authenticity. 

Someone recently asked me my advice for finding your passion and your purpose in life. Without really even having to think about it, I wrote back:

“I’ve found most people find purpose in the wake of tragedy, pain, or trail. It pulls it out of you. Rock bottom is a firm foundation.”

Rock bottom is a firm foundation. I’ve hit rock bottom- I’ve been there, as so many others who’ve dealt with mental illness have. It used to be a point of shame for me, something that I wanted to keep hidden, but now I see it for what it truly is. It was pulling myself to a point of true vulnerability so that I would be forced to face who I am and who I want to be. It gave me perspective. It made me humble. And, most importantly, it gave me the power to take back my story and make it my own.

Mental illness is not a fatal flaw. Messing up is not the end. Hitting rock bottom is not failure.

Any moment can be a new beginning.


Photo by Jennifer Skog for Just Be Yoga.

Introducing Real Food Renegades

Every week, I send out a newsletter filled with personal reflections, interesting articles, and things that inspire me. It’s a great way to stay connected, and a great way for me to share the things that lift me up.

One of the weekly constants in my newsletter is a healthy recipe, sometimes by me, and sometimes by other bloggers around the web. My original intent was to provide most of these recipes by myself, because I love to cook and love sharing what I cook, but living in the dorms means I have a microwave, mini fridge, and not much else to work with. While finding recipes on other bloggers’ websites is great, I wanted something a little bit more personal to share with my weekly subscribers.

Not too long ago, I met Emma through a mutual friend. She’s an amazing cook, real food advocate, blogger, and pure ray of sunshine. Because she’s 15, we bonded over being the “youngsters” of the real food movement, and I knew immediately that I wanted her to be a part of my community.

That’s why I’m happy to share that Emma has specially designed some recipes to be included in the YogaMaris Weekly Newsletter! Keep an eye out for them in future editions, but for now, here’s a quick interview with Emma to help you get to know a little bit more about her and the work she does.


Who are you and what is your mission?

My name is Emma, and I’m a 15 year-old allergy-free foodie! I live in southern Canada, surrounded by beautiful forests, meadows, and lakes.

My mission is to spread the word about real food – which to me means nutrient-dense, vibrant, Paleo-inspired, and flavourful food – to my generation. So many young people are unaware and mislead about the healing and nourishment that we can harness with the foods we eat. There is such abundance in choosing local, seasonal foods and preparing them from scratch! I am connecting with like-minded people through my blog and Instagram to share in the real food message, plus I have started a new interview series on my blog, Generation Real Food, to inspire other young people to nourish their bodies with food. I hope to work with my local community to teach kids about real food in the future!

How did you discover your love of food?

Food has been my passion since I was little – it’s what I was born to do. I’ve had food allergies my whole life, as many as 20 when I was younger, but I’ve never let that stop me from cooking and sharing homemade food. A little more than a year ago, I watched a documentary about sugar that changed my view of food. That one show made me question everything I knew about food – from what we are taught in school, to conventional wisdom, to the role of politics in it all – and inspired my love for holistic nutrition and a real foods approach. I am eternally curious and always learning about food, myself, and the world. I’m an unashamed hippie and self-care advocate, outdoors enthusiast, and artist, as well as a total food nerd.

How will you be contributing to the YogaMaris Weekly Newsletter?

I am contributing some super-flavourful, nutrient-dense recipes that are easy to make – perfect for a weeknight dinner as a student or businessperson. I am inspired by the season, so expect lots of warming fall meals! I’m super honoured to be sharing these recipes on my friend Maris’s newsletter.


photo by realfoodrenegades.com

If you were a vegetable, which one would you be?

Probably heirloom tomatoes! They’re actually fruits, so I guess there’s an element of unexpectedness there! I love how colourful they are and how they burst with flavour and sweetness.

What’s your favorite way to move your body?

Definitely hiking in the forest. The simplicity yet complexity of nature always grounds me, plus there’s the benefit of foraging black raspberries!

Which season is your favorite?

My favourite season… changes with the season! Here in southern Canada, the seasons are very pronounced. I love swimming in the lake in the summer, collecting sunrise-shaded leaves in the fall, playing in the snow and drinking tea in the winter, and seeing life blossom again in the spring.

Be sure to check out Emma’s blog at RealFoodRenegades.com, follow her on Instagram, and keep an eye out for her recipes in the upcoming newsletters! You can sign up for my newsletter here!

Balance: Don’t Look at Your Feet

The first arm balance I ever learned was bakasana.

Bakasana, or Crow Pose, is most people’s first arm balance, in fact. You’ve probably seen it in a million yoga pictures: only your hands touch the earth while your knees are pulled up into your armpits so you look like a balloon floating above the earth only tethered by the string of your arms. It looks far more impressive than it really is to the untrained eye, and that’s exactly why I was so excited about learning it.

I remember the day it happened. It was a 4:45 Vinyasa Flow class at Just Be Yoga. I was a sophomore in high school, and just like every other day, one of my parents had dutifully braved evening traffic and dropped me off at the studio so that I could practice. Just Be was still new, with a “big” class being five to ten people, a world away from the maxed-out 50 people classes that happen on the regular today. The teacher, Jenni Wendell, decided for one reason or another to break down the pose that evening.

She got us all set up with a block at the front of our mats lovingly cushioned with a folded blanket and walked us through the set up- a familiar script I’ve now used a hundred times to teach others the pose. Plant your hands flat into the earth, walk your feet back about six inches, bend your arms back like chaturanga and pull your knees into your upper arm…

I kept watching my feet as I did this, as though to will my toes to leave the earth they felt cemented to. Without fail, I would collapse forward onto my block every time.

“For something to go up, something has to go down.” Jenni said as she walked around the room, offering her assistance wherever it was most needed, “Let your head come down towards the floor so that your feet can come up. You’ll feel like you’re going to fall on your face.”

I am falling on my face. I though to myself as I begrudgingly set up my block for what felt like the millionth time. My wrists were sore, my shoulders were tired from the chaturangas I was still building strength in, and my confidence was shot from my countless failed attempts to take flight. I was still very new to the practice; I’d only found Just Be about three months before.

Once again, I started to rock my weight forward into my palms, letting my head come closer to the block that was meant to elevate the ground and ease our worries of breaking our noses. My eyes were trained on my feet, my neck almost rounding to bring my head underneath me for a better view.

“Don’t look at your feet,” Jenni advised, her wild, blonde bun bobbing as she spoke, “You’ll lose your balance. Look forward, towards your hands.”

I snapped my gaze forward, now fixing my eyes on the white curtains that softly fluttered in front of the glass-paneled garage doors at the front of the room. I picked one foot off the ground, pulling my heel in towards my hips, and then the other. For a few, glorious seconds, I was floating, only connected by my palms to the earth I’d been rooted to my entire life.


Just as quickly as I’d come into the pose, it was over. I fell- rather ungracefully, as is to be expected from myself- back onto my mat, a grin plastered on my face. No matter how briefly, I had done it. I had found my balance.

The lesson of Crow is only truly beginning to dawn on me today, three years later and 80 miles away from the first time it entered my life. Life is, I’m coming to see, one giant balancing act.

Let me depict this with a Venn Diagram:


I’m torn between three things: my academic success, my social life and passion work, and my physical and mental health. It’s fairly easy to focus on one or two things at a time. If I’m cracking down on my health when it’s truly necessary, like when I was first recovering from my eating disorder four years ago, or when I realized I’d let it slip during a particularly stressful period in school my senior year, I can devote myself to it like it’s a full-time job. I get to bed early, I’m fiercely protective of my alone time, I prioritize nourishing foods like both and fermented veggies. I’m all in. 

But academics have always been important to me, so any spare time is then filled in with studying and school. If I want to wake up early to get movement in before school, and get to bed early to make sure I get enough rest, and have time to make food, grocery shop, and work in between, suddenly I’m not really socializing or prioritizing any passion projects I might have stewing in the back of my mind.

Okay, so I reorganize. My health is back in order, I’ve maybe gained back some weight I lost or nipped some skin issues in the bud, time to get a little more lax. I spend more time going out with friends, or staying up late to finish an article, or don’t set aside time to make bone broth or ginger tea. Suddenly, though, my health is suffering again due to lack of sleep and not enough good food.

Okay, time to reorganize again. I’m really enthralled with my passion projects and I’m having fun spending extra time out with friends, so I crack down on food and sleep, and start to skim by academically. I skim more than I analyze, I cram in a study session right before the test, I turn in what are probably not the best papers I’ve ever written. One day, though, I’m sitting in class and realize I don’t understand things quite as well as makes me comfortable.

And the cycle repeats.

Trying to pursue all things to their maximum feels absolutely impossible when everything innately works against one another. Having fun and being social- at least in high school and college- tends to mean less sleep, or less time to study. Studying and cracking down on academics can mean late nights or pulling time away from things that keep me physically (exercise, making good food) and mentally (yoga, meditation) healthy. Prioritizing my health can mean shutting down a study session when it’s creating stress that’s affecting my body and spirit negatively, or “introverting” to recover from long periods of pushing too hard.

And if you do somehow manage to do everything perfectly (or even try to get close), you’re going to go absolutely insane.

A problem I had for a long time was that I did try to do it all: and I fell apart. Seeking perfection in this way spreads you so thin you break. You tear right down the center, and you’re left with none of the things you were seeking.

Entering college, I knew that I would be thrown out of balance for awhile. I knew that I’d be taking more challenging classes, and I’d be drawn- almost compulsively- to throw myself into them the way I threw myself into high school. I knew that I’d want to feel my best and maintain the health I’ve worked so hard to gain, both in terms of mindset and my physical strength. I knew that I’d be faced with a sea of social and extracurricular possibilities that all demand my time.

I knew that, once again, I’d be pulled in opposing directions.

But just because I’m aware of this, doesn’t mean that I know how to find the balance yet. Even in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve already pushed to hard in each direction. I spent a day cooped up, doing reading that wasn’t assigned yet because the class introduction reignited the academic distress that lay dormant in me all summer. I turned down the invitation for a night hike to go to sleep because I worried about not getting enough sleep before an early wakeup call the next day. And in direct contrast, one day I accepted far too many invitations and had to spend the entire next day alone to recharge.

I want to do well in university and study hard, but I also want to explore and have new experiences. I want to stay healthy and keep the new habits I’ve developed over the past few years, but I don’t want to be obsessive. I want to be true to my introverted nature and not be afraid to do things differently, but I also want to challenge myself to grow and step outside my comfort zone.

But perhaps one of the biggest things I’m struggling to find balance with is teaching. I decided to take a break from it altogether when I moved to give myself time to get acclimated and keep my focus on my studies, but not even a week into school I found myself handing in a resume to teach at the school. This has me so torn. My passion, my calling, my love is teaching. I’ve never found anything that fills me up the way sharing the practice of yoga does. And yet, I’m also craving time away from it. Craving a time where I can focus on my own practice, my own life, my own experiences. Not creating someone else’s.

Maybe the answer is to take time off. Maybe the answer is to just sub, not to have a full schedule. Maybe the answer is somewhere in between or far away from any of that. I would never dream of leaving teaching forever, but perhaps there’s value in a sabbatical to allow myself to adjust and embrace the new elements of my life.

The fact is, I don’t know the answer, I don’t know the perfect balance for any aspect of my life right now. And maybe, just maybe, the answer doesn’t fit so perfectly in that Venn Diagram. The lines could be blurred, the efforts could spill over, the time could be divided in a different way. Life and its curiosities haven’t been boiled down to a science, no matter how badly the perfectionist inside of me wishes it was.

The message I’ve been hearing loud and clear from those around me is “It’s okay to take time for yourself.” But I’m also hearing, “It can be comforting to familiar projects and jobs during times where everything feels new.” Ultimately, it comes down to looking forward, trying new things and new ratios on until you find yourself in a future that feels right.

In bakasana, crow pose, you have to keep your gaze forward or you will lose your balance and fall flat on your face.
If you keep looking back or looking at the ground where you might fall, you’re asking for failure. Maybe the key here is the same: keep looking forward. Keep embracing new. Keep taking it one breath at a time. 


Growth vs. Fixed Mindset: A Greyscale Interpretation


Something I’m realizing more and more is the power of mindset.

As someone who’s struggled with specifically mental ailments, I’ve come to realize that changing the way our brain operates and performs is just as important- if not more important- than exercising and increasing our physical capabilities. I’ve come a long way physically from my weakest: through yoga and other exercise I’m now able to do things I was simply incapable of just four years ago. I can run, jump, and truly experience my body now. But my mindset is something that I’m still striving to improve.

The day before classes began, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Flora Lu, the Provost for Colleges Nine and Ten, as well as being an Associate Professor in the Social Sciences division. Her talk was an introduction to the theme of my college- Social Justice & Community- as well as a speech meant to inspire the freshman class as we enter our first year of higher education.

The beginning of her talk delved into the aspects of social justice that we’ll be addressing as the year goes on, including topics of race, disability, and environmental equality. As the talk progressed, however, she presented the idea that our mindset has an immense power over our success in college and beyond.

“I want you to imagine, hypothetically,” she said, “That you’re receiving the results of your midterm in class. You studied really hard for this test, you really prepared, and you got a C-.”

My heart immediately dropped at even the hypothetical suggestion of not doing well on an exam I’ve given my all. As a recovering perfectionist and forever Type-A personality, the idea of failure even in the presence of my best efforts is the very definition of devastation, and yet, she went on to make the situation worse.

“And you look over at your friend next to you,” She continued, “And they got an A.”

She paused and let the situation soak in. Then she asked us, just for a moment, to imagine how we would feel to be in that situation. How would we react? How would we internalize the idea of imperfection? How would we perceive our friend who had, objectively, superseded us?

Immediately, I felt jealously. True, tangible jealousy, and, perhaps more than that, embarrassment. Someone had done what I couldn’t, someone had proven their abilities were greater than mine. I knew that, were this situation to come into reality, I wouldn’t handle it well. I would internalize my shame, creating a toxic inner dialogue and filling my head with self-limiting beliefs.

“You’re not good enough.” I could practically hear the malicious voice that lingers in the back of my mind, usually dormant, reviving in the wake of the situation.

Dr. Lu flipped to the next slide in her presentation. On it was a diagram, displaying two sketched brains. One was labeled “GROWTH MINDSET,” the other was labeled “FIXED MINDSET.” From both brains extended a line towards the center, which merged and stretched down the length of the image. Along the now singular line were bubbles each containing a word or phrase: Challenges, Obstacles, Effort, Criticism, and Success of Others. On either side of the bubble hung a small description, labeled under the concept of a growth mindset or  a fixed mindset.


Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D, graphic by Nigel Holmes

The work on the graphic, by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D, presented the idea that success is expanded by a growth mindset, whereas it can be stalled or stunted by a fixed mindset. Those with a growth mindset versus those with a fixed mindset react to various aspects of life very differently, and in turn their actions are extremely different with extremely different results.

Those with a growth mindset embrace challenges as ways to expand their knowledge and abilities, whereas those with a fixed mindset tend to avoid them, often for fear of failing or being inadequately prepared for the task. Similarly, those with a growth mindset persist in the face of obstacles where those with a fixed mindset tend to give up very easily. This could be very likely a direct relation to the fact that those who are growth-oriented see effort as a path to achieving the things that they want, and those with a fixed mindset see it as fruitless or unnecessarily difficult.

The way the two mindsets interact with the world and people around them is just as interesting and just as divisive. When one is in a growth mindset, they are willing to learn and expand from criticism they are given. When one is in a fixed mindset, they tend to ignore criticism that comes against them, and often disregard feedback they disagree with or take as an insult to their abilities. The success of others is another way to understand the differences between the two mindsets: in a growth mindset you view the success of others as an inspiration, and in a fixed mindset, you view the success of others as a threat to your own.

Unsurprisingly, those with a fixed mindset tend to reach a plateau and never reach their greatest potential. Those with a growth mindset tend to achieve higher levels of achievement, and even have what Dweck describes as “a greater sense of free will.”

I immediately began to try and categorize myself between the two definitions, and as I did so, found that I- like probably most people- don’t fit perfectly in either one of the categories. Like most other facets of life, I wasn’t either black or white, I was a shade of grey somewhere in between.

In fact, I came to the conclusion that I have a growth mindset with some important caveats.

While I have definitely achieved many things in my life thanks to embracing challenges and even seeking them out, I oftentimes find myself shirking away from those that I don’t feel “worthy” of. As a Junior in high school, it took months of persistence from my teacher to enroll in AP Calculus, a class I immediately rejected as outside my abilities because I don’t consider myself a “math person.” I was fixed in the belief that because I don’t have inherent mathematical abilities or gifts, I wouldn’t be successful in the class, even though a year later it was proven that through hard work and effort, I could get an A in the class. It was a challenge I definitely didn’t embrace until others pushed me into it, at which point I was forced to enter a growth mindset if I wanted to see positive results.

Perhaps the only categories I found myself squarely on the “growth” side of were persistence and effort. My entire life, I’ve been unrelenting in my dedication to work ethic and personal responsibility (largely fueled by desperate perfectionism in the larger portion of my life, but still tireless effort nonetheless). You might label it as simple stubbornness, but I simply don’t give up when I truly want something. I just find a way to make it work, and that, more often than not, requires extra effort that I have no qualms about putting in. At 16, I dedicated myself to a 200 yoga teacher training program, while still maintaining my grades and commitments in school and otherwise, because I wanted it. It didn’t matter to me that it was hard, it mattered to me that I achieved the things that I wanted.

But the category of criticism was tricky for me. I often times take criticism very personally and struggle to apply it. If I’ve poured my heart and soul into a project, class, or article and someone criticizes it, I see it as a criticism of my personal worth, not just of what could be improved in the project at hand. As such, I have one of two reactions: I either shut down and make excuses for why their feedback is invalid in an act of self-defense, or I internalize it as a point of shame and allow it to feed a negative inner dialogue.

Beyond realizing that I exist in the grey area of the two mindsets, which I can only assume isn’t uncommon at all, I discovered that my mindset shifts based on the circumstances around me.

If I’m in an environment where I already feel capable and smart, I’m far more likely to be in a growth mindset. If I’m in a yoga class or workshop, where I already have a fairly large understanding and knowledge of what’s being presented, I feel ready to expand upon what I already know and am doing. Because my personal integrity and self worth isn’t being challenged, tackling challenges and obstacles doesn’t feel like it will result in a degradation of how I perceive myself.

In contrast, if I’m in an environment where I feel inexperienced, inadequate, or not naturally gifted, I’m much more likely to be in a fixed mindset. Because I’m not “naturally good” at something, I’m fearful that I’ll come across as incapable or unworthy even if I put in the work. I see challenges and obstacles not as a path to expansion, but as a way to reveal my insecurities and lack of abilities. I project the idea that my worth and ability is being challenged on those around me, and see their criticisms and help as hurtful or direct attacks on me as a person.

Knowing this, I feel empowered stepping into my first year of college.

I know that I’m leaving a space where I felt capable-high school- and entering a space where I feel uncertain, fearful, and worried that I won’t be “enough.” That I won’t be smart enough, good enough, dedicated enough. I’m entering a space where my instinctual reaction will be to enter a fixed mindset as a way to protect myself from feeling this inadequacy.

But in being aware of this, I now have the power to flip that mindset on its head.

My eyes have been opened to the ways I close down in times of fear, and now that I’ve identified these ways, I can consciously choose to change them. I can choose to enter a growth mindset, I can choose to learn from my mistakes or perceived failures. I can choose to make this a time of expansion and growth instead of allowing myself to be held back by my own perceptions of the world.

Our minds are powerful, more powerful than we’re consciously aware of on a day-to-day basis. If we choose to address and harness this power, we can change our lives.

And I’m ready to change.



Dr. Flora Lu

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D




Missteps in the Right Direction

I’ve finally made it to Santa Cruz.

On Saturday, I drove down with my family bright and early, got all my things unloaded and unpacked, and started to settle into my new home. Everything was going far smoother than I expected: my room felt homey and personal already, filled with pictures and objects that are filled with meaning and importance to me. There were no arguments and hardly any frustrated snips as we buzzed around, trying to get everything squared and away before family was supposed to leave at 3:30.

This is great.” I thought to myself, “I’ve totally got this college thing down.”

After we said our goodbyes, my family left for the Bay, leaving me in awe of the whole ordeal. I wouldn’t be driving back home, I wouldn’t be sleeping in my own bed that night, I was going to stay here…live here. It felt completely surreal, and yet, not as intimidating or dreadful as I thought it was going to be.

A friend who I’d met at orientation in the summer invited me to get coffee, and I was grateful for the distraction. I didn’t want to sit alone in my dorm, letting the newness get to me. As we walked through downtown, drinking our Verve and pointing out cool murals or interesting artwork on the street, I couldn’t help but smile. I could see myself living here, and more than that, I could see myself living here. All was well.

That is, until I got back to my dorm and went to unlock the door.

I dug through the plastic case on the end of my new UCSC lanyard. My ID was there, my laundry card was there, my emergency contact list was there…no key. I instantly started to panic. Where could it be? Did I leave it somewhere? Did it fall out? Did I throw it away with the trash we’d taken out? Did my parents accidentally pocket it?

I wandered out into the quad and found a student wearing a shirt that designated him as a COLLEGE GUIDE.

“Hey…I’m going to be that obnoxious freshman that locked themselves out the first day.” I said, an embarrassed smile on my face that would hopefully convey my embarrassment and humility about the situation.

“No worries, happens all the time during the first week. I’ll walk you to the Housing Office.” he said. There, I was given a temporary key (which was placed on a lanyard for me, as though to say “please don’t lose this one“), which I was to return as soon as I found the other one. As soon as I got back to my dorm, I tore the room apart searching for it. I unmade my bed, laid on my belly on the floor and peered under the furniture, tore through the recycling.


By this time it was nearing 6 o’clock, when I was supposed to meet my floor residents out in the quad for ice breakers and a community dinner. I found what I thought was my floor, and I spent the entire evening getting to know “my floor mates.” I started to learn some names, and felt a little bit better about the franticness of the evening so far. During the community dinner I looked around and thought, “Hey, these people seem pretty nice. I could get used to this.”

When we all filed back to the dorms, however, I realized my mistake. I thought I had joined the right group, but it was actually the reverse of my floor. For the sake of simplicity, if I’m in Building A on floor B, then I went to Building B floor A. During our floor meeting with our RA I looked around at the sea of strangers I’d accidentally avoided the entire evening. I wondered if they thought I was weirdly antisocial, or that I’d been hiding in my dorm all day, or if I didn’t want to be their friends.

I had accidentally ostracized myself.

That night I locked myself in my room and cried. It felt like I’d messed up a million different ways in just the first night alone. I’d lost my key, failed to properly bond, gotten turned around about 500 times and taken the Magellan route around the school all day, and, for some reason, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was that I’d used the all-forbidden push pins to decorate my walls because someone at orientation told me it was okay.

It wasn’t.

So I did what any college freshman does on their first day when everything goes wrong: I called my mom.

And mostly I just cried, and told her how everything was falling apart and how it must be a bad omen of some sort. She reassured me that everything would be okay and my mistakes were no big deal. Eventually I called Ryan, who reminded me that “college is hilariously bad” and you just have to laugh everything off if you want to have a good time. I hardly listened, but eventually I was so exhausted by the day I had to go to bed and hope that the next day would be a fresh start.

At first it was. I woke up to birds singing and silvery morning light filling my room and a beautiful view of redwoods through my window. I grabbed my mat and headed outside, careful to bring my key, and practiced on a deck outside the Namaste Lounge. I wanted the sun get higher and higher until it shot through the branches of the trees all around me. The weather was perfect- cool but not cold, warm but not hot, with a gentle breeze that seemed to carry the ocean all the way into the forest. I walked back to my room with a skip in my step. Everything seemed to be turning out okay.

Back at the dorms, I headed to the showers. They were cleaner and nicer than I’d expected them to be. I dried off, walked down the hall in my flip flops, and went to unlock my door…only to be reminded with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that my key was lying on the desk inside.


Wrapped in my towel, I scurried back to the bathrooms and threw on the clothes I’d thankfully brought with me. I wandered down into the quad, where I ran into a kid with no shoes.

“Hey, how you doing?” He asked.

“Good…ish. I locked myself out.” I said.

“Me too. I just called the RA on duty, she’s gonna let me in. I’m going to meet her in the Housing Office.”

Thank goodness. I followed him to the HO, a location I was sadly already familiar with. The RA handed him his temporary key, and then turned to me. “Room number?”

I gave it to her, then warned, “I actually locked the temporary key in there. I don’t know where my other key went. I can’t find it.”

“No worries,” she said with a poor freshman smile, “I’ll get you the backup.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. There was a backup! I’d get into my room, have time to get breakfast, wouldn’t even be late for my mandatory assembly. I may have messed up, but at least there was an easy solution.

That is, until the RA realized the backup was missing.

“I’ve never had this happen before,” she said, a little bit of panic in her voice, “Let me call my supervisor.”

She pulled out her phone, and I listened to one end of the conversation.

“Hi! Oh..sorry to wake you up…yeah…I have a  student here, their backup key is missing and they locked the temporary in their room….yeah…I’m sorry…okay…see you soon.”

I cringed. I was that person who’d woken up the supervisor.

“She’s coming with the master. She’ll walk you back and let you in.”The RA said, still smiling even though I was being a hassle. I apologized profusely, telling her I was so embarrassed and I was sorry to cause so much trouble the first morning. She reassured me that it was okay, mistakes happen, there are lots of lockouts the first few weeks…but I still felt horrible.

As I walked back to my dorm, I berated myself in my head. I should have been more careful, shouldn’t be so forgetful, should be more mindful. Suddenly, I was reminded of something a teacher had once told me:

“Should” is one of the most toxic words in our language. 

The second we begin to think that we “should” be one way, or “shouldn’t” be another way, we negate our feelings, emotions, and circumstances of the present moment. In allowing ourselves to create this dialogue in our head, we invite in self-doubt and self-deprecation that only serves to make the situation worse. I tried to zoom out, to see these events from a wider lens. I had just moved out of my house for the very first time, I was living “alone” for the very first time, hell, I was using a key to lock my door for the first time. First times are filled with mistakes, with learning opportunities.

When I first began practicing yoga, I can guarantee you I made a million mistakes. My updogs were undoubtedly putting unnecessary strain on my back, I couldn’t keep the warriors straight, and my chaturangas were a hot mess. When I first started Olympic lifting (and even today, as a person relatively new to the practice), I new nothing and made endless mistakes in regards to form and terminology as I got acclimated.

In those environments, I was able to move past my mistakes and see them as a means to improvement, why couldn’t I do that here?

IMG_6123-1.PNGThis summer I dedicated myself to being a student. To stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying something new that would, hopefully, better me as both an athlete and a person. Now I’m realizing the greater reason behind it: it was to prepare me for this, for college. I’m still learning, still learning the terminology and keys to success just like I did in yoga and lifting. The greatest thing I learned from those endeavors was graceful humility, and now it’s time to apply it.

All these little mistakes, all these little missteps, they are just movements in the right direction that are a little uncomfortable. It’s like moving uphill- at first it feels uncomfortable and maybe even painful, but eventually you reach the peak and can coast the rest of the way, only running into a few bumps here and there. I’m putting in the ugly, uncomfortable work now so that I can find my routine and my ease later. And while I might be embarrassed by these mishaps and mistakes today, they will certainly become a laughable memory somewhere down the line.

So while I may not have it all figured out, and I may be tripping my way uphill at the moment, I’m working my way to the top. I’m seeking my peak.

I’m finding my way.


The Last Class

I taught my last class at Just Be on Sunday.

It’s something that seemed really far off and distant right up until the morning it happened. Months and months ago, before I even graduated from high school, I sat down in a meeting where they asked me, “When will you be teaching your last class?”

Until that moment, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d be really leaving Just Be. Sure, I’d gone through the whole process of picking a school, committing, making housing arrangements…but it all felt so disconnected from the life I was currently living. It felt like planning a fake life, a separate life, a life that was more akin to a vision board than an outline for the next few years of my existence. Suddenly, I was being forced to commit to an end.

“Uhm, I move in to school on the 17th,” I said, scrolling through my phone to find a date I hadn’t even considered looking up yet, it felt so far away, “So I guess…the 11th? Of September?”

And so it was marked on the calendar: “Maris’s Last Class.” The class where I’d quiet down my teaching schedule, shift my focus from being a teacher to being a student, begin my sabbatical from a passion I’d just begun to live. But at the time, it was just that: a date on a calendar. It loomed somewhere in the distance the entire summer, an inevitable end that loomed in the back of my mind incessantly but quietly. Every time it would bubble to the surface I would shove it back into a corner to be dealt with later, “when the time came.”

And then Sunday, I was forced to realize that the time had come.

I’d put together a playlist- just like every other week– thrown together a flow in my head-just like every other week- and had a rough idea of what my theming and message would be, but knew it would inevitably change in the moment when something more relevant and raw came up- just like every other week. And yet this felt different. I felt somewhat somber as I walked into the studio, threw on some music, and started running around handing out blocks and playing mat tetris to fit everyone in. Class was packed: so many people had made an effort to come take my class one last time, a gift I didn’t take for granted for a single second.

When it was time to start class, I opened with the same line I use every time: “Has anyone never taken my class before?” Just to get a gauge of how familiar the class would be with my cuing and my personal interpretation of Vinyasa. One woman raised her hand.

“Hi!” I said, instinctively, “This is my last class!”

The room laughed, because it was funny, the idea of them accidentally wandering into a class that felt like a final goodbye to the rest of us. I laughed, too, but it still made me sad for a moment. It all suddenly felt real, the idea of moving. The idea of leaving. The idea of not teaching. I could see the pages on the calendar being torn off in my mind’s eye, the sudden jump in time from that meeting months ago to this now very real date in the future.

That class was special to me. It felt distinctly me- the music, the postures, the flowing. There were twists and tricky balances and room to play with inversions and arm balances. The energy of the class was more than I could have ever asked for, with everyone being willing, open, and energetic. At the apex of the class, where everyone dropped from a crazy final flow of traditional half moon and revolved half moon into a shaking final high plank, I threw my hands in the air and yelled out over the music, “Whatever it is that you want, call it in now!”

With a collective sigh as the music faded, the class collapsed down onto their mats, covered in sweat, their eyes closed and their bodies tired. I padded around the room, reveling in the stillness that had been born from the heat and movement and noise just moments before. This was always my favorite part of class- the part where I watched the bodies recover from their hard work, and slip into quiet bliss. It’s at this point, where the body has been exhausted, that the mind opens.

It’s here that I speak.

“Life can get really difficult.” I said, my voice piercing the silence in the room, “It can get twisted and off-kilter and thrown upside down.”

I was crouched down low now, my palms on the floor and my eyes scanning across the sea of mats. I felt simultaneously very tiny and very large.

“And when it does, it’s really easy to ask why it’s happening to us. Why things have to be so hard, why they have to be so twisted and challenging.” I paused, then continued, “But in reality, these things aren’t happening to us, they’re happening for us.”

“Life is remarkably similar to a yoga class. We push through the hard times and the challenging times for this moment, right here, this bliss where all is still and the mind is open.” I stood up, stepping my way over the bodies and mats and quietly finding my way to a pole in the middle of the room that I held onto as I spoke, “We create and release tension- both in our muscles and in our lives. We let go of anxieties and fears and traumas and doubts that get in the way of our growth, of our expansion.”

“Yoga is the practice of creating new space. Of letting go of what we no longer need so that we can fill ourselves up with all it is that we want. It’s here, at the end of the effort, that we can call in what it is that we want. That we can fill in all the space we created with what it is that will truly serve us. That we can be in a space of creation.”

“Whatever it is that you want,” I said, slowing turning in a semi-circle as I scanned the room, “Call it in now.”

All was still. I lingered in the silence, hoping that everything I was pouring out was soaking in. It was a message, straight from my heart and out of my lips and onto their mats, that was something I needed to hear just as much as I felt they did. It felt like an open letter to the world, myself included. A letter that I needed to receive just six days before I picked up my life and moved to Santa Cruz.

Because I’ve been feeling twisted up and off-balance and upside down recently. I’ve felt like my entire life is uncertain and unscripted and unnecessarily difficult. I’ve felt like things are happening to me instead of for me. I’ve felt like I can’t be in a space of creation because my life is being thrown into a whirlpool of the unknown, like my life and current passions are being put on hold for the time being while I become uprooted from all that I love.

But as I watched this final class evolve, I was reminded that our practices are mirrors to our lives in the truest sense. When I’m struggling in a chair pose that feels endless and unnecessarily difficult, I know it’s for the bliss that comes after: the sense of accomplishment at the end, the final drop into savasana when it’s all worth it. Life isn’t so different from the shapes and postures that have, ultimately, changed my life over the past few years. In fact, it’s the most similar replica I could ever find, just on such a small scale that the lessons become clearer far faster than they do in our lives off of the mat. Instead of looking back years later and observing the lesson, we can see it the moment we exit a pose. It’s how growth and evolution is worked right into the practice so beautifully and effortlessly.

This move, this change in routine and loss of my current one, is simply an asana. It’s a way to get purposely thrown off-balance and tossed upside down in order to become stronger, to get all twisted up in order to create more space, to challenge myself in new ways in order to enter into a space of creation.

The time has come to put in the work. To push myself to find a new edge so that I can expand and become more: more confident, more empowered, more understanding, more me.

And soon, the time will come for me to call in whatever it is that I need.

I Have a Mission

So here’s the thing: a documentary is being made about me.

You know, the whole being-followed-around-by-cameras thing.

A woman I really respect and admire approached me with the idea for the film about a year ago, and it just felt right to me. The emphasis wasn’t on illness, wasn’t on lingering in the pain of my disorder, but in exploring my journey into lightness and recovery in a way that would, hopefully, inspire others along their own path. The movie doesn’t idolize me or make me out to be an all-knowing guru, it authentically represents both the dark and light parts of me in a way that I feel good about sharing with the world.

I’ve only recently started talking about it, for a few reasons. For one, at first it just didn’t feel real. There was a lot of time where the project was put on hold, stalled, or pushed off simply due to time and (no-) budget reasons. And once filming did start, I was pretty certain that everyone would quickly realize I’m not all that interesting and would abandon the idea altogether. And even once that fear wore off, I still didn’t talk about it unless it was necessary because I didn’t want to come across as self-centered or narcissistic.

It started to come up more when a woman with a camera was mysteriously behind me at important life events. When I presented my senior project, I checked in the documentarian, Laura Van Zee Taylor, at the office as a “guest” to film my presentation for vague and noncommittal reasons. At graduation I wore a mic under my gown and had a camera underneath the stage as I spoke and didn’t mention it to anyone. At Just Be Yoga’s anniversary party, Laura was there, filming the class and silently capturing one of my last chances to teach at my beloved studio before leaving for school.


As Laura began interviewing important people in my life for the film, I started getting questions.

“What is this about?”

“A documentary? Like a movie?”

“What’s it like being followed around by a camera?”

I always kind of blushed and shrugged away the attention. It’s not that I’m embarrassed by the project- I’m constantly humbled and honored to be a part of it- but I just didn’t want to come across as, well, self-indulgent. And to be honest, at first it was kind of weird to have a camera there, following me around and capturing my life. Laura was there as I got ready for graduation, and my visiting family members seemed kind of put-off by her presence. My peers seemed confused by her when she came to visit my school. I worried that I was appearing inauthentic or distracting from the important milestones of my life by doing something that is often warned against: living with an audience.

But I’ve come to realize that I’m passionate about sharing my story, and this is a powerful way to do it. I love to write, and this blog will always be an important project and tool for me, but if I can spread my message through another, attention-grabbing and beautiful medium, why would I turn down this opportunity?

If I have a purpose in life, it is to speak my truth, be honest about my struggles, and share the lessons I’ve learned along my journey so that I can be of service to others. 

There is something about breaking down walls and sharing your life with no filter that makes you real and tangible to people in a way that makes inspiration effective. You can read a million success stories, see a million before-and-after photos, but if no one ever sits down and tells youlook, these are the ugly parts, the things I’ve struggled and still struggle with, the parts that won’t make the highlight reel,” you’re never going to feel empowered to change your life.

Almost exactly a year ago, a CNN article was published sharing my story with anorexia and yoga to teaching the practice and sharing my truth through writing. Before that publication, I was fairly quiet about my past and what I’d been through. I didn’t keep it a secret, but I didn’t go out of my way to discuss it, either. There was shame, embarrassment, and guilt around struggling with mental health while coming from a household with married parents who had stable jobs and good grades and a seemingly perfect life. Who was I to say I had been through hard times? Who was I to say I had overcome?

And beyond that, I worried that I wasn’t an “after” yet. I worried that I wasn’t “better enough” to deserve to share my story. I worried that I was still “the anorexic girl”, not the person you should be looking to for hope as you struggled with your own personal battle. I worried that I wasn’t perfect, because some days I still woke up feeling like shit about my appearance or my self-worth or my life’s direction. I wasn’t always filled with glowing positivity and perfect body image and never stressed about food or exercise or health. I was still learning, still growing, even years into what I would consider an active recovery.

So to “come out” about my story on a worldwide news site was kinda a big deal to me.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. But more than people applauded me for my recovery, they applauded me for talking about it.

Because there are so many people on this planet who felt and feel just like I did- like they don’t deserve to talk about their illnesses or struggles because their life is “so good.” Or because they don’t have it “bad enough.” Or because they will be judged for not “having it all figured out.” Or because they still aren’t recovered, healed, or in a healthy space mentally/physically. And when you’re forced to keep these burdens inside, with no one to help you carry them, life gets very draining very fast.

I share my story because I want to remove the stigma of talking about mental illness.

This is my mission in life: to be fearlessly authentic about where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. To prove that you can struggle with mental health without allowing it to define you. To help others learn the lessons I’ve had to learn and continue to learn as life goes on. I never want anyone to feel the way I used to- to feel like the path to healing is one you must walk alone.

This movie is a part of my mission. Writing is a medium I’ve chosen, and filmmaking is a medium that has come to me to help me along the way. If one person can watch this film and feel inspired to be open, inspired to recover, inspired to begin pursuing their own mission, then it is worth it. So beyond worth it.


I’m so honored to have this opportunity to share my story in a way I couldn’t do alone. Filmmaking is an art I simply don’t have experience or talent in, and it is a beautiful art form that engages the senses in a compelling and engaging way that, I believe, will breathe life into my message in a way my words can’t do alone sometimes. My writings and my practice and important moments in my life that aren’t always captured in my teachings or in my blog are going to be combined in a project that I will be proud to share with the world some day.

And so while the lights and the cameras and the recording studio may not seem “yogic” or like I’m “living in the present moment,” I believe in my heart that this is a way to share with people in this world a message that may not have reached them otherwise. I believe that this was meant to be a part of my path, a part of my mission. I believe that it will help me make a difference in this world.

I’m filled with gratitude for this opportunity, and for all the people who are pouring  their heart and soul into making this a reality. This film is being made with no budget, and is only coming to life thanks to the belief others have in the power of this mission and the difference it can make in this world. Talented, talented creators are donating their creative abilities to help bring the writings of my blog into a new form. I see this film as my blog and my writing coming to life- and this process takes my breath away as it begins to shift into reality.

I have a mission. This is part of it.


Living Life with an Audience

In the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a really talented photographer a handful of times. All those fun pictures floating around of me doing yoga in pink yoga pants on the streets of San Francisco, or standing on top of  a mountain, or practicing in my beloved Just Be studio were done by Eric, and his work blows me away every time. His eye for creative lighting, angling, and juxtaposition between the subject and the setting is unparalleled, but outside of his technical work, Eric is an incredibly insightful and interesting human being.

A few days ago we were bouncing around ideas for a new shoot, and we got to talking about popular Instagram photography accounts. He made the point that some accounts, while being technically sound in terms of lighting and landscapes, kind of feel like a “cool kids club,” and I had to agree. Some pages appear to be just seas of flawless women peering coyly at a camera, almost challenging the viewer to question their beauty. At some point, all the photos and various photographers start to blur together, all producing similar content that exudes a vibe of privilege, adventure, and luxury.

And yet, there’s still an attraction to it. It’s beautiful, whether or not it represents a lifestyle or message that can be upheld in our modern world. Just like I don’t spend every day wandering around San Francisco in a sports bra doing the splits on the concrete, these women can’t spend their entire lives looking pretty in a field of grass. Is it this exact whimsy that draws us in? And where is the line drawn in the sand for authentically expressing our lives and passions in a creative and artistic way while also not carefully manufacturing a life we can “sell” to an audience?

“I’ve caught myself trying to play their game,” Eric said, “Which isn’t why I do this, but social media is a hell of a drug.”

When he said that, I knew exactly what he meant. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, something that I’ve written about and struggled with time and time again as I share my life and messages through the social outlets that get demonized day in and day out, while being simultaneously used to admonish it. But what it brought me to most immediately was a stand-up comedy show I’d watched with my boyfriend and his roommates this past weekend.

In Bo Burnham’s most recent stand-up special, Make Happy, is what he calls “a show about performing.” As someone who grew up as a performer and surrounded by performers, Burnham originally feared that making a show and writing material about performing wouldn’t be relatable to those outside of the arts and theater realm, but he quickly realized that everyone is a performer. In his show, he calls the Millennial Generation “a cult of self-expression,” an entire generation raised to believe they need to be fantastically unique in order to gain an audience that would justify their life and life’s decisions.

“Social media…it’s just the market’s answer to a generation that demanded to perform.” Burnham said, crouched low on the stage he had illuminated with harsh lighting in an attempt to remove the theatrical facade of intense, colorful spotlights and fog machines, “So the market said, ‘Here, perform everything to each other, all the time, for no reason.’ It’s prison.”

“I know very little about anything, but what I do know is that if you can live your life without an audience, you should do it.” 

As Burnham delivered this bit, a far cry away from the parodied songs and crude jokes he’d been telling for the past hour, I was completely enthralled. It was a message I’d always felt somewhat subconsciously as my peers and I grew up becoming more and more involved with social media and it’s art of performance, but had never been able to quite articulate. And yet, as the young comedian desperately delivered his message through the TV screen, I felt like the only captive audience he had. I scanned the dimly lit room, where college-aged boys lounged around on couches and chairs leaned back against the dented walls,  and saw a sea of illuminated faces bent over their phones, scrolling through what I could only assume was some outlet of the exact social media Burnham was talking about.

When Burnham was no longer performing in a way that specially catered to his audience, he lost it.

And I realized that this is a sick irony I deal with every day. 

I consider my life’s work to be spreading and sharing the lessons I’ve learned throughout my life in the most accessible and authentic way I can. I believe in speaking your truth, helping other’s achieve their greatest and best, and, perhaps most importantly, leading by example. By writing about accepting my flaws, sharing pictures of me doing the things that make me the most happy, and becoming a teacher of the practice that has healed and empowered me, I’m hoping to inspire others to do the same. And while I choose to utilize social media and the internet to accomplish this, it feeds- directly or indirectly- into the phenomenon Eric and Burnham speak about.

Because I do certain things that cater to an audience. I share high-quality images. My blog looks pretty. I compile a newsletter weekly to share with what can only be described as an audience. It’s what Eric and marketing experts call “social proof”- it’s the bestseller list, the restaurant with the long line out front, the yoga studio with the prettiest decor and biggest community. It’s the things that send a message to the world that says, “I’m worthy of your respect and attention. Come listen to what I have to say.”

And when you’re someone who is dedicated to being authentic and being transparent, it begins a delicate game of finding the sweet spot between gaining public respect and not diluting your message with bells and whistles. 

Because, just like Eric, I’ve found myself on the slippery slope of gaining attention, even if it’s not directly related to your ultimate message. I’ve received countless messages and emails asking me to represent this brand, promote this product, or collaborate with this company. More often than not, these are people and products I’ve never used or would use, but with these offers comes the allure of potentially more attention, a greater audience, and part of you wonders, “Isn’t this what I want? More people to see me, to see the work that I do?”

And to a certain extent, I can believe this is true. The more people who get drawn in by a pretty picture of me doing yoga, the more people who might stick around to hear the things I have to say, the important things that come straight from my heart and hopefully help people embrace who they are and the mistakes that they’ve made in the same way I’m dedicated to doing now. That’s why work with people like Eric- to have these photos that physically embody the happiness and joy I feel at this time in my life, that will hopefully show others that living an empowered life is achievable, even if it doesn’t look like perfection.

Because I have never, and never will, try to embody perfection. I’ve never starved myself before a photoshoot, or manipulated my water or sodium intake, or gone or taken diuretics to “dry me out” so that I’ll look good from one specific angle while I’m flexing and posing and squeezing to all hell. I’ve always shown up exactly as I would show up to any day of practice, with the exception of maybe some mascara or my hair not in it’s usual messy bun. I’ve tried very, very hard to share myself at all stages of my continuing journey out of anorexia- something that takes years and ebbs and flows in weight and appearance even after what feels like a lifetime of recovery.

My photos that accompany my blog, social media outlets, or newsletters are all of a body that really and truly exists. Of a body that exercises to feel good instead of looking a certain way. Of a body that eats good food until I’m full, not until I think I’ve met an arbitrary number of macronutrients. Of a body that sometimes doesn’t get enough sleep, misses a workout, or eats something that isn’t the “best” choice.

This is the only reason I feel comfortable sharing them.

So will there be some people who don’t see this part of my message? Will there be people who clump me in with the literally thousands of other people who share pretty pictures of them in yoga pants doing handstand on Instagram, many of whom have no true message or intention other than gaining the audience Burnham warns against? Will there be people who never read a single thing I write, hear a single thing I say, and only send me a sketchy message calling me pretty and asking if I want to “hang out” sometime?

Of course.

But if even one person who clicks on a picture of me because they think it looks interesting  goes on to read something I’ve written, or comes to my class and hears me speak, or uses the online classes I put out for no money or any reason other than wanting to share the practice that I so love in a way that makes it accessible for everyone, and changes a tiny aspect of the way that they think or live: it’s worth it to me.

Someone recently, in what I can only assume was a tongue-in-cheek way, offered me a writing gig “if I’m not too busy being a celebrity.”

But I want to make something clear: I’m not trying to be “a celebrity”. I think the concept of being a celebrity or being famous is inherently flawed and toxic to the self-worth of people everywhere. It’s based on the idea that “normal” people are inherently less than, based on the premise that you are born “nobody” and have to become “somebody.”

I, just like everyone else on the planet, am just a normal human being making mistakes and learning how to grow from them. I have just chosen to be vocal and public about it in the hopes that it encourages others to see the normalcy, and even beauty, in being human. 

So I will always be playing this game of balance- playing by the rules sometimes so that I can capture people’s attention long enough to share what is important to me. Using hashtags that are objectively silly and obtuse in order to maybe reach one more person who needs to hear the things I have to say. Taking pictures some may see as gratuitous or feeding a culture of self-absorption so that I may show that self-love and self-confidence are traits that everyone is worthy of. Using social media that can be used as either a way to feed your empowerment or feed your dependence depending on how you look at it.

Just like everything in life, it requires awareness and intention. As long as my intent is pure and my motive is always to be of service to others, things will work out in the end.

Christine Caine says, “If the light that is on you is brighter than the light that is in you, the light that is on you will destroy you.”

I’ve taken that to heart.