My Corporate Lawyer to Yogi Story
Here's the short version.
Hi. I'm Nicole. I was born and raised in this small Caribbean island called Puerto Rico. It is technically a part of the United States, but it is apart of the United States. Growing up, I tried to achieve highly so that I could be successful in a career and financially independent. I wanted to make my parents proud, since they had done everything they could to provide me with the best education and opportunities available to them, things they didn't have growing up.
I went to college in the States and decided to be a lawyer. A corporate lawyer. I applied to a bunch of New York City law schools only -- because I was in love with a guy who wanted to live there. That relationship didn't last, but I ended up getting into one of the top law schools in the country. So I took the leap alone.
When I first got to law school I felt like I was in way over my head, but I managed to get straight A's my first year and landed a New York "Big Law" firm job before even graduating. This prestigious job sucked the life out of me. I quickly realized work never stopped. Emails came in at all hours of the day, and we worked on multi-million (sometimes billion) dollar deals, so it was highly stressful. I was expected to be available 24 hours a day every day and the workload just kept piling up. The work itself was, you could say, "exciting" but it was draining, thankless and never-ending. And everyone around me seemed miserable. I had no workout routine, no healthy eating habits, no regular sleep schedule and barely any free time. More alarmingly, when I did have free time to enjoy myself, I still felt like something was missing.
I started to become very unhappy. My friends and family worried about me because I was no longer my usual optimistic and happy-go-lucky self. I asked myself: What is going on? I worked so hard to get here. I had "made it." I was a young successful professional in one of the biggest, most important cities in the world. My six-figure annual salary kept growing each year. I was independent, I had good friends, and I developed a reputation in my office as a good worker and reliable team player. But I was profoundly sad. Was this all there was? I felt stressed out all the time. I would burst into tears for no reason in my office, sometimes even in meetings. I've always been skinny but I had lost so much weight that my clothes wouldn't fit and my assistant kept reminding me to eat lunch. I felt trapped, confused and out of touch with myself and eventually fell into a depression.
My doctor told me I needed to exercise and I decided to try yoga because I didn't like working out. I went to the gym a couple of times and it wasn't my thing. I hated running and in the winter (which was basically half the year) it was just a hard PASS for this Caribbean girl. Yoga was challenging enough to get my heart pumping but relaxing enough to feel doable. When I first started doing yoga I could tell it helped, but I couldn't articulate why. Through the years, I managed to come out of my depression (not solely because of yoga but a combination of things). I switched jobs, I traveled the world, I took a painting course, adopted a dog, had a stable romantic partner and an idyllic apartment (with a patio and a dining room!) in Brooklyn. I didn't really keep a regular yoga practice then, but I knew that it was always there if I needed it.
My true initiation into yoga happened a few years later, after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It was a very tough year and I felt powerless and stuck. Aside from the obvious anxiety over the political climate, I still felt professionally unfulfilled, my long-term relationship ended abruptly, and Hurricane Maria had devastated my home island. I knew what depression felt like by then, and could tell I might sink into another one if I didn't take proactive steps. So I again turned to yoga. I stepped into a class with King at Yoga Tribe Brooklyn, a train stop away from my place, and my life changed. When I finished class, something within thanked me for showing up. I couldn't wait to go back. I'd rush out of work every Wednesday to get to yoga on time. I viewed it as my safe haven -- a place where I could let go of all my worries for a little while. It didn't matter what work emergency might come up, it could wait until after class. And I noticed some changes in my life:
I was more in tune with my body. I felt more centered. My thoughts became coherent. I had more patience. I approached new things with an open mind. I was motivated to be healthier. My self-confidence grew. I experienced more gratitude.
The shift was gradual and went unnoticed at first, until one day I realized it had been months since I felt truly stressed or overwhelmed at work. But nothing outside of me had changed. I was working with the same people, dealing with the same clients, doing the same work. It was my outlook that was different. I didn't get frustrated by a last-minute request from a client, or an unexpected setback in a diligence project. I just kept rolling with the punches, allowing my emotions to pass while focusing on the task at hand, whatever that was. In my personal life, I also approached challenges with a different attitude: I trained for and ran ten miles straight at the Broad Street Run in Philly (thanks to my dear friend Silpa who suggested the idea). Running 10 miles had seemed impossible to me just a year back! It all started right around the same time as my yoga practice did. Yoga changed me.
How did yoga change me? It's all about perspective in the face of adversity. In the context of yoga, I may feel one pose is extremely uncomfortable, but I had to sit with it until the teacher moved on to the next pose, so I would breathe through it and eventually come out of it feeling relieved and accomplished because I stuck it out. The next day, that same pose might feel a little less uncomfortable. Months later I might reach a deeper expression of the pose that I thought was not possible. Outside of yoga, it made sense as well: When faced with a difficult situation, I could either moan and groan, think about how much it sucks and resist it, or I could simply allow it to happen, surrender to the experience, make the best of it and breathe until it passed, which inevitably it did. I survived "setbacks" I didn't think I could handle and mastered them with patience and acceptance. As a result, I learned I could change things about myself (like attitudes and habits) that no longer served me even though changing was uncomfortable. And every time this happened I felt more empowered.
Fast forward a year later, I quit my job, moved from New York to Puerto Rico, and completed a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training at Ashtanga Yoga Puerto Rico. Pre-pandemic I was teaching classes at Ashtanga Yoga and Vibra Studio. I teach each class with kindness and encouragement. I truly believe yoga offers the practitioner the tools needed to feel empowered, harmonized and fulfilled. My desire is to share yoga with anyone who wants to incorporate positive changes in their life. I still practice law, but I also have the opportunity to embrace all the different parts of myself that I wasn't able to fully nurture as a full-time attorney: yoga, painting, writing and sharing experiences, creating community, etc. I have my yoga journey (and the mentors who guided me along the way) to thank for this.
Believe it or not, this is a short version of my journey to healing myself through yoga. I will continue to share how Yoga helps us heal. ✨