This former law associate committed to her growing passion for yoga by starting certification training in her 40th year.
When did you start to think about making a change?
As a first year lawyer, I was already trying to come up with a new direction. I loved law school and value my legal education, but I never really enjoyed practicing corporate law. The decision to stay home and raise my kids was an easy one. My husband’s job required a lot of travel and there was just no question in my mind that I needed to be around. I was relieved to leave behind the corporate attire, the commute, and the pressure to advance my legal career. After we moved to the suburbs and I had been home with my three children for several years, I felt ready to start on a new path.
I was a ballet dancer growing up and always worked out to “keep the weight off.” I did it all: aerobics, running, walking, group fitness at the gym. In high school, I was never drawn to group sports because I am not a competitive person. I started taking yoga classes regularly in my 30’s after I moved to the suburbs and was home raising my three kids. I felt that it was a very rigorous workout, yet it was joyful and oddly relaxing.
I learned from yoga videos at home and found myself going to yoga classes whenever I had free time. On a vacation with girlfriends, unsatisfied with the hotel yoga, I led our morning yoga practices on the beach; their positive feedback, as well as the joy and comfort I felt teaching, made me realize that I was onto something.
Yoga helped me take the weight off after my third baby without feeling like I was “working at it” or dieting. It made me more comfortable with my physical body and with myself in general. It made me feel grounded and balanced at a very busy and hectic time in my life.
In honor of my 40th birthday, I followed my heart and committed to a one-year teacher training at Moksha Yoga Center in Chicago. I immediately felt that I had found my way back home. At the time, I did not know anyone “like me” who had become a yoga teacher in midlife. Since then, I have found many attorneys (and many high-achieving professionals) turned yogi.
My training class of 14 students was very diverse. We all came for different reasons with a common calling to teach peace through yoga. A month into my training, I started teaching yoga and realized right away that this was what Eastern philosophy calls my dharma, my duty or my calling.
What is your Next Act? Tell us about what you are doing…
I am a yoga and meditation instructor. I teach Vinyasa Flow Yoga, which is based on the Ashtanga system. I also weave in many other styles of yoga, such as Yin Yoga, which incorporates long holds and deep stretches. I often add a few Yin Yoga poses at the end of the practice to induce deep release and relaxation.
I love the precise alignment and use of props (blocks, blankets, and straps) that Iyengar Yoga offers and the breath-synchronized movement and rigorous sequence of Ashtanga. I like to heat the room a little when I practice and teach, but prefer 80-85 degrees over the 100 degree temperatures of Hot Yoga.
I started teaching yoga and realized right away that this was what Eastern philosophy calls my dharma, my duty or my calling.
Yoga is my daily practice for well-being. I think of it as my medication; I need it to consistently feel like my best self, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Each day, my physical practice is different, depending on what I need that day. Sometimes, I need rest, which is when I opt for long stretches and restorative postures supported by pillows and blankets.
On a purely physical level, I am now much stronger and leaner than I ever was. Emotionally, I feel balanced, more confident, less anxious and happier. Spiritually, I feel connected to something greater than myself, to a stronger sense of faith.
I would describe my style of teaching as “soulful Vinyasa Flow.” I use a wide variety of music, including contemporary music and covers of classic songs (for example, Counting Crows covering Joni Mitchell, or Alanis Morrisette covering The Police), as well as instrumental music, to create a mood or energy level. My classes are challenging but simple and easy to follow with foundational poses and descriptive verbal cues. I also use hands-on adjustments to help the students find deeper expressions of the poses.
Why did you choose this Next Act?
Once I started reading Eastern philosophy and studying Hatha Yoga, I knew that I was being called to share my experience with others.
I grew up as a Reformed Jew, going to temple on high holidays only, and never really related to the stories and the liturgy in Jewish services. I have always enjoyed many of the customs and I am extremely proud of my heritage, but I never really felt close to a supreme being or creator that was described in the texts. I love Jewish music but I did not feel “close to God” through prayer.
The Eastern practices of meditation and mindfulness first helped me wake up spiritually and made me feel more connected to the universe.
The ancient Buddhist practice of mindfulness asks us to bring attention to our everyday experiences with kindness, openness, and compassion. When I bring my attention fully and lovingly to my movements and even to my daily activities like washing the dishes, I must be present, rather than brooding over the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness enables me to operate from the present and a balanced, centered place instead of reacting from chaos or stress.
The “moving meditation” practice of yoga and a seated meditation paying attention to my breath have also helped create spaciousness in my mind and mental clarity. Returning my attention to my breath frees my mind from the constant mental chatter and limiting beliefs and opens me up to the idea that I am a part of something bigger.
Mindfulness enables me to operate from the present and a balanced, centered place instead of reacting from chaos or stress.
Both practices have become central to my life, which have enriched my Jewish life. I now enjoy participating in Jewish services and am studying Jewish texts which contain so many “yogic” teachings.
I have made so many new friends in my trainings and among my students. My students teach me more than I could ever teach them. I cherish the relationships I have made in this conscious yoga community. My “regulars” tell me that they feel safe, peaceful and calm in my classes. They seem to be drawn to my slower pace and uplifting music.
How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?
It felt very organic. Once I started on the path, I just kept following my heart. There is a famous quote in yoga by a very important yoga teacher, Pattabhi Jois: “Practice and all is coming.” I have found this to be very true. We just need to commit to practice regularly and everything falls into place. When we practice, we evolve and grow.
When I started teaching, I felt at home right away. I used to get so nervous as a lawyer, especially if someone I knew was on the other side of a case or saw me in action. I have had old boyfriends, family, and my yoga teachers take my classes, and I am rarely rattled. That is how I know I am doing exactly what I should be doing.
What challenges did you encounter?
There were definitely family members and friends who were skeptical that I could make a career out of yoga or feel fulfilled. I am a pleaser, so it definitely bothered me when I felt like I was not being taken seriously. I got over that fast, and I think so did they, once they experienced my teaching.
Were there times when you thought about giving up? What/who kept you going?
There have definitely been moments when I thought that I am too busy as a mom to give myself fully to my career. I have really come to understand that being a “busy mom” has actually informed my teaching and has made me into the special teacher that I am.
My mom helped me a lot with my kids when I was in my trainings or when I have traveled to do special workshops. My husband has supported me in my journey a ton. He is a very hard worker and has been with his company for a long time, which definitely helped alleviate the pressure for me to make a certain salary right away. He also takes all my classes when he is in town and recruits his friends to join.
Being a “busy mom” has actually informed my teaching and has made me into the special teacher that I am.
I believe my kids are proud that their mom is passionate about her work and recognized and celebrated in the community, but they tell me I talk about yoga way too much! They have tried my teen classes but prefer to just do the relaxing poses and massage at home. I don’t push it, but I am hopeful that they will discover a style of yoga and/or meditation that they like and incorporate it into their lives some day.
What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?
Be patient. Do not be in a rush. Since, as women, our time may be limited and certainly our attention is divided, it may take us a longer time to finish a program or “work our way up.” I believe that our unique experiences as women and mothers shape us and provide us with a perspective that you cannot read in a book.
What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?
Check out different styles of yoga. Commit to your practice. Be open, be humble, be patient. Just start taking a variety of classes and start reading books about yoga, meditation, spirituality and Eastern philosophy. Resources are abundant online, from smart and humorous blogs to guided meditations to practice videos.
Find a respected yoga program. There are many different certification programs offered. The one I took was 14 months long and from a reputable Chicago school of yoga with a faculty of very experienced teachers. It was accredited by the Yoga Alliance. While there are currently no federal or state-mandated requirements to teach yoga, it is very important to have a firm grasp on anatomy, sequencing, and the benefits and contraindications of poses and breath work before teaching.
Before committing to a school, talk to people who have done the training and take some classes at the studio that is offering the training to make sure that you feel comfortable and inspired.
Being a good yoga instructor requires a lot of discipline, devotion to your own personal practice, and experience teaching all different types of students. Most of the level 1 teacher-training programs are 200 hours. My first training probably added up to 1000 hours. This included tests, such as anatomy, and lots of practice teaching and video review.
Self-care is very important when teaching yoga, as it can get very tiring, especially when I don’t practice what I am teaching.
One of the biggest challenges to new teachers is to “find their own voice.” I believe that the most effective teachers are authentic to their personality and style. I have at times tried to present something that I read or saw before I totally integrated it into my own practice, and it just does not work. I try to just be myself and use the music that uplifts me as well as the poses and sequences that I know from my own experience to be effective.
Find a mentor. I have been fortunate to find many mentors through the classes and worskhops I take. Experience is everything, and they have helped me tremendously.
Commit to continuing education. I recently took a “Level 2” teacher training which went a little deeper into anatomy and therapeutics, with a cadaver lab and lots of hand-on practice teaching and adjusting. I take weekend workshops whenever I can. I am lucky to work at studios that attract visiting yoga masters; I often volunteer to host them and drive them to the airport. This is one of many ways to reduce the costs of continuing education.
One of the biggest challenges to new teachers is to “find their own voice.”
While yoga is a very rewarding field in so many ways, be aware that the pay is not great. Typically, you get $5-$7 per student in studios, so for a class of 10 people, you might make $50-$70. You can make a little more teaching privately ($60-$150 per hour). It is a good idea to have another source of income or savings when you are starting out.
Offering free classes is a great way to build a student base. I just celebrated my fourth year of teaching a free community class on the beach on Fridays at 6am. Between 30-50 people show up each week, and many of them become regular students in my paid classes.
Make sure you have liability insurance when you start teaching yoga. You can get it through the Yoga Alliance for $175/year. They also offer health insurance.
What resources do you recommend?
There is so much to learn and so many facets of yoga and the rich philosophy and history that underlie it. My library is very robust with books on meditation, self-acceptance, emotional wellness, therapeutic yoga, spiritual awakening, and different schools of yoga and meditation.
Check out the following:
Living Your Yoga by Judith Lasater
Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann
Teaching Yoga by Mark Stephens
Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub
How Yoga Works by G. Michael Roach (Fiction)
Places to get teacher training:
Moksha Yoga Center in Chicago, IL
Yogaview in Chicago, IL
Reach Yoga in Glencoe, IL
North Shore Yoga in northern suburbs of Chicago, IL
Wanderlust Yoga Studio in Squaw Valley, CA
Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, MA
Resources on Meditation:
Full Bloomed Lotus in Wilmette, IL
What’s next for you? Do you think you have another Next Act in your future?
I do not have an aspiration to own or run my own studio; my goal for the next few years is to refine my teaching by deepening my own yoga and meditation practice. As I have more time in my schedule, I would like to start offering some more specialized workshops and retreats.
I would like to expand my teen yoga program. I have witnessed such profound changes in my teen students who stay with it. I feel that I could expose many more teens to the benefits of yoga and meditation if I brought it to the schools and sports teams. I see myself working on a movement or designing a program that brings yoga to youth.
You can reach Deb Wineman at www.debwinemanyoga.com