NATURAL HABITAT: BALTIMORE
I grew up in Baltimore, raised by my creative, intelligent, kind, and kooky parents, Don and Alexis. My upbringing was definitely non-traditional, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My family escaped Baltimore frequently to visit family in Louisiana, Texas, and Florida. I missed many days of school, but my bookworm tendencies kept me on track academically. We learned to celebrate diversity and enjoy a spontaneous road trip.
My Mother wore a lot of hats, as many women do. In her 70 years–don’t tell her I told you her age–she’s been a dancer, choreographer, costume designer, ballet teacher, international travel consultant, and stewardess for Eastern Airlines back in the heyday of air travel. Her intuition is uncanny, her sense of humor witty and dark, and well of forgiveness bottomless.
My Dad, a jazz and blues saxophonist, marketing consultant, and entrepreneur, always nurtured my creative aspirations. I attended Baltimore’s best dance schools, studying ballet at The Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University and modern dance, jazz dance, and ballet at the Towson State University Children’s Dance Division. Dad also bought me flutes, violins, keyboards, tennis rackets, and the lessons to go along with all of them.
Poppy, my paternal grandfather, encouraged my bookworm tendencies by letting me tag along with him on his usually solitary trips to the Parkville library in Baltimore County. He loved literature, politics, travel, and the law (he was a law school graduate, but had a career in finance), and I’d like to think he’d be proud of my level of civic engagement today.
SIX YEARS OF COLLEGE
I was an anxious little girl who grew into a super anxious teenager. I knew something was “wrong” with me, but I was determined to keep it a secret. I drank Benadryl from the bottle to fall asleep at night, and escaped from reality by any available means–I retreated into novels, hid in closets, searched out my own little solitary spots in the woods, and wrote.
When college time arrived, I felt overwhelmed and exhilarated by all the choices I had. I changed my major almost every semester during my first few years, but focused mainly on English, dance, biology, chemistry, and philosophy. By the grace of my wonderful advisor and a few exceptional professors, after six years I earned a B.A. in English from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. My interest in how, exactly, that Benadryl could knock me out so swiftly led me to complete a certificate in pharmacy technology from the Community College of Baltimore County-Essex. (It came in handy. I’ve had a fifteen-year career in pharmacy, working in various roles from certified pharmacy technician to pharmacy automation data analyst.)
When I’d get bored with whatever “real” job I was holding down, I’d always return to my favorite college job–waiting tables. As a Gemini–my Moon is in Cancer and I have Sagittarius rising if you’re into that sort of thing–I’m a natural hostess and party maker despite all my anxieties. I’ve always loved the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant. In elementary school, when grown-ups would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d always confidently answer, “a waitress.” I found the atmosphere of restaurants exciting even then, and the server at our local Friendly’s in Hunt Valley, MD, was so kind to me when she brought me my strawberry Fribble. I thought she was super cool and awesome in her pink dress and white apron.
Dance has always been an important part of my life, as an extension of my Mother’s legacy and as a creative outlet. Mama enrolled me in ballet lessons at the age of three on doctor’s orders to help correct my turned-in legs and feet. I wore bars on my legs at night to correct this condition until my mother could no longer bear to hear my wailing when she’d put them on. Ballet lessons did the trick for the most part, and my love of dance continues to this day. I studied modern dance at Towson University, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and Goucher College, as well as at several dance studios. I performed with a few small dance companies and in many school recitals. My favorite dance company is Paul Taylor Dance Company, and my favorite piece in their repertory is Piazzolla Caldera. I also love Pilobolus, MOMIX, Mark Morris Dance Group, The Joffrey Ballet (especially Billboards, a ballet set to music by Prince), and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
PANIC AT THE FORT MCHENRY TUNNEL
One night when I was 19, I had a check-up at the orthodontist’s office. To get there, I had to drive through one of Baltimore’s two tunnels. About a third of the way in, my hands started to sweat profusely, my heart raced, and I felt I would die if I didn’t get out of the tunnel NOW. I nearly turned the car around. Shortly thereafter, I was diagnosed with panic disorder. My anxiety and depression became more and more debilitating, to the point that at twenty years old, I didn’t feel safe anywhere except in my parents’ home or a hospital. A number of other tags from the DSM were attached to me over the next few years, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depression, and generalized anxiety disorder. I saw therapists. So. Many. Therapists. I tried many drug therapies and talk therapy techniques until one therapist–the one I thought was weird, of course–suggested that I try yoga. Fine, I thought. Why the hell not? I took my first Kripalu Yoga class in 1999 at a YMCA in Towson, MD. I loved the asana–I was “good” at it because of my dance background. The relaxation part…not so much.
I continued to struggle with my mental health, but I kept going to yoga classes. Slowly, yoga provided me with some new coping tools, and my suffering lessened.
HOW I BECAME A YOGA TEACHER
My first yoga teacher, Lorraine Concepcion Treger, suggested that I take a teacher training after I had been practicing for two years or so. I would never have done it without her encouragement. Will Walter of Charm City Yoga, a talented and experienced asana teacher, introduced me to the bhakti path when I enrolled in a series on mantra and kirtan. I was hooked on chanting right away. In 2004, I completed a 90-hour Anusara Yoga teacher training, followed by an apprecticeship with teacher Mona DeFrawi. I taught a few beginner classes, but teaching didn’t really “stick” as a passion until after I moved to North Carolina. A few days after I moved to Chapel Hill to work for UNC Health Care, I took a class with Lauren Sacks on a Sunday morning at Carrboro Yoga Company. Her class reminded me how much I loved yoga. After I got settled into my new job at UNC, I started studying with Ti Harmony and Allison Dennis, who had just opened Open Heart Yoga School, a beautiful donation-based yoga community. In 2011, I completed Allison’s 230-hour Veda Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training. After graduation, I jumped right into teaching.
MY TEACHERS AND TRAINING
Yoga teachers need their own teachers, and I am so grateful to mine for their support, friendship, and advice. Ti Harmony, my main teacher, helps me reach places in asana I thought I’d never go, and he’s been an invaluable resource and support in difficult times. He’s the real deal. Sage Rountree continues to inspire me to teach asana in a clearer, more precise, and methodical way without losing my creativity or sense of humor. Allison Dennis is a bona fide Yoga Sutra scholar, and I’m so grateful and lucky to have learned yoga philosophy from her.
In addition to my 230-hour vinyasa training, I’ve studied anatomy with Ray Long, MD; LifeForce Yoga for depression and anxiety with Amy Weintraub, MFA,; First Degree Usui Reiki Attunement with Master Teacher Connie Filip; Jivamukti Yoga with Sharon Gannon, Jill Abelson, and Hollie Sue Mann; Anusara Yoga with John Friend, Amy Ippoliti, Mona DeFrawi, and Desiree Rumbaugh.
I’m enrolled in Carolina Yoga Company’s 300-hour Advanced Studies program with Sage Rountree, Lies Sapp, and Mira Shani.
In July, 2014, I received mantra initiation from my guru, Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma, the “Hugging Saint”). She teaches that we should treat everyone we meet as though they are God, and I hope to embody that compassion and love as much as possible.
APPROACH TO TEACHING
I teach a wide variety of classes and workshops, but I have a few specialties and areas of particular interest.
- Breath-paced, mindful vinyasa flow, with emphasis on the qualities Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön encourages us to cultivate in our practice and in our lives: precision, gentleness, and the ability to let go. I offer weekly group classes in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Durham as well as private and semi-private sessions.
- Kids’ and family yoga classes and Playshops, with focus on fun, connection with others, and body and breath awareness. Lil’ Asana is my own kids’ yoga program I developed for ages 5-8. I teach weekly kids’ yoga and also work one-on-one with young people with ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, and autism as well as students who desire more individualized sessions.
A lifelong bookworm, I enjoy South Asian, South American, and American literature. My many other interests include Buddhism and other Eastern philosophical traditions, whimsical films, dining and cooking, sweet treats, coffee, health care policy (particularly women’s reproductive health and mental health), food policy, and social media. I enjoy writing, too, and I’m slowly working on a collection of creative nonfiction.