More and more people my age feel at a crossroads regarding their career, even I am asking myself a lot of questions lately and so I wanted to ask Sarah a few things about her recent career change and how thoughts came into action, as well as how she incorporated yoga into her daily life.
Sarah is a friend of mine I met through Uni. I like to think timing played a great role in our friendship as we weren’t that close at the time but our paths crossed again years later and we started to bond a lot more and get to know each other way better.
We met for lunch in Paris together on a very hot sunny day and chatted for 30 minutes about the topics I had decided to raise. I hope you’ll find her story and values as inspiring as I think she is.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
That’s not easy for a first question! So, I’m 26, I’m Sarah, and last year I decided I would change my job and finally do what I love, what I’ve been dreaming about. I decided I would get trained to become a yoga teacher. I quit my job in a big firm I was working for as a demand planner in December last year, and I decided 2017 was going to be the year I made my transition to be able to do what I love for a living. And so, since january I have been working for a friend of mine, who founded a startup that encourages local consumption, and in parallel, I’m trying to develop my yoga activity, which means getting my certification, and launching the activity, little by little, hoping that next year I can be 100% in what I love: yoga.
What’s your background, what did you study, what’s your professional path ?
I started studying maths after high school. When I started uni, I had my career all planned out in mathematics, it was my passion at the time, and I really wanted to become an actuary, which still surprises me to this day. I understood pretty quickly that it was not for me, I mean, it still took two years. I did two years of applied mathematics at university, and then I realized it was a little too abstract for me, and that even though I loved maths, it was not enough to spend my whole life in that field and so I switched a little at that time. I went on to something that seemed a little more concrete at the time: I switched to information systems and I did a bachelor and a master’s first year destined for information systems consulting. And in my second year in that field, I discovered supply chain. I did a specialising master’s degree in supply chain management. If you look at my studies, I’ve always been in science, but I’ve actually always had a passion for everything related to well-being.
What was the thing that made you want to switch ?
I don’t know if there was really a moment when everything fell into place, as I was saying it was always there, but maybe I did not have the maturity or the confidence I needed to tell myself “ok, now, I’m doing it, let’s go” and so for a long time it was on my mind but I kept thinking I couldn’t make it my job.
Was it an easy decision to make ? Did your family play a role at that important time for you?
With my family, it was always pretty easy, my parents and my brothers have always supported me, everyone always told me “if that’s what you want to do, go ahead”, but I have to admit I didn’t make any crazy choices either! I still went on with my studies and got my master’s degree, and I think they knew that yoga and well-being was a part of me, that I was attracted to other things. I think it was very natural when I told them I wanted to become a yoga teacher, and I didn’t drop everything at once either! I’m a very careful person, maybe a little fearful too, so I tend to cover myself and maybe that’s what reassured my family and made things easier for them. But also, my brothers, my friends, my boyfriend, they all support me 100% so I’ve nothing to stress about in that area, I think I actually put more pressure on myself than anyone else.
I know you pay a particular attention to the body and to well-being, especially in terms of food but also in your lifestyle, were you brought up that way or did it come later? Can you tell me what this lifestyle means to you?
No I think I was brought up that way, even if I didn’t grow up eating the way I do today. The change on my eating habits came rather late, but it is a lifestyle that was always there. My mother herself was always interested in well-being, she was very careful with what we ate. I think it came quite naturally, growing up I figured I only have one body, I am going to spend my whole life with that body, so I might as well treat it properly and give it the best I can if I want to go as far as possible with a sane body. When we look at our lifestyle, it’s obvious the body is not really at the center and we can see the results of that. We get sick earlier and earlier in our lives, even if we live longer, we live with diseases that make life very hard, that was a realization for me.
A lot of people think it is a sacrifice to watch what I eat, to exercise, but it feels good to me, I never force myself to exercise. It was never about privation for me, it sounds silly but I never liked candies, I always ate a lot of vegetables and very little meat, even before I became a vegetarian, so the changes I made years later came in continuity.
What’s important is to listen to your body; when you realize you feel better, the only thing you want to do is to continue. But everybody has their own body, and no one knows your body better than yourself, so I will never impose my way of life on anyone.
Since when have you been practicing yoga?
The first yoga class I ever went to, it was my mom who made me. I went to please her, it was probably in 2007-2008. I remember I use to fall asleep in shavasana in every class. It was not love at first sight, but I never stopped going. I continued during my studies, it followed me. I practiced a lot at home for a while, using the internet, and little by little it became a constant at a time when my life was changing a lot: my studies, my leaving for Canada where I continued practicing, and then when I came back to Paris. It had been in my life for so long and then at one point I said to myself “why wouldn’t it be my life?”.
What do you say to people who say yoga is not a sport?
Ahah, I actually agree! It is true it is not a real sport. Well, I don’t really know what a real sport is, but I don’t think we can say yoga is exercise. It is exercise in a way because it can keep you fit, but if you mean an activity where you’re into performance and surpassing yourself, then it doesn’t meet the criteria. It is more of a state of mind, a lifestyle. People often think yoga is only the physical dimension, the postures… I practice a very dynamic kind of yoga because I practice Vinyasa yoga but there are other types that are softer, less dynamic, so the physical dimension is a little less present. This is where people imagine someone meditating, sitting in lotus, but beyond the postures, there is a whole reflexion that you can have on yourself, on life. Yoga is present all the time, not only when you are sweating on your mat, it is way more than exercise. Other people who may not be able to use their legs or are handicapped can definitely practice yoga. Because yoga is also taking life as it comes, taking care of yourself, listening to yourself, trying to find unity in everything you do. You don’t need the physical aspect of it to call yourself a yogi.
What advice would you give to a complete beginner who wants to start yoga?
Most of all, don’t start telling yourself “that’s it, I’m starting, I will have 3 practices a week, I’m going to lose weight, and I’m going to feel much better”. People are going to feel much better when they start doing yoga but I think you shouldn’t get into yoga with precise goals other than “I’m going to take care of myself”, that yes. The other advice I would give is to find a teacher that you feel good with. I was listening to Rachel Brathen’s (Yoga Girl) podcast the other day, and she was saying “you should want to go grab a glass of wine with your teacher” or something like that. You should try to find a teacher that you can imagine yourself doing something other than yoga with, someone who has the same language you have, because in yoga it’s important to understand where the teacher wants to take you, beyond the physical posture. You also need to find the style that suits you. Some people need a very soft and gentle yoga, something slow, and others need a more energizing and stimulating. What’s important is to find a yoga that corresponds to you, and to understand that yoga makes your body and your mind evolve, so you will not practice the same yoga throughout your whole life. You need to listen to your body to know what’s good for you at each moment. You shouldn’t have any specific expectations going in, or put too much pressure on yourself, that way you can stay open. The more open you are, the easier it is to welcome what comes your way.
What are the benefits of yoga for you?
The benefits can come from the postures, especially on the muscular system and the skeleton because it protects the joints from aging. It also develops flexibility as well as muscle tissue. When you strengthen your muscles, you improve your posture, you protect your skeleton better. But beyond the physical benefits, there are fantastic effects on the nervous system, there is an impact on the circulation of energy through the body. It’s not really the first thing that people seek through yoga but for me it’s essential. When you start going into the postures in depth, it’s amazing, and I think yoga prepares us for a lot of what can happen in life.
So there are physical benefits, of course, I know I strengthened my body so much, especially my back, I used to suffer from back pain quite a lot and I don’t anymore. I can see that my silhouette has evolved with yoga, but I don’t stop at what I see in the mirror, even if I know liking what you see is a big part of feeling good with your body. On another level, I am much more capable of dealing with my emotions and my stress. I have learned to know my body when I started yoga, even though I already exercised quite a bit, but I really learned to listen to my body with yoga and I think that’s one of the biggest benefits. And I haven’t even talked about the benefits on the digestive system, the breath, the heart, the blood pressure, that’s all crazy but that’s a whole other chapter! But most of all, yoga teaches us so much about ourselves, and not only about our bodies, and that’s what is really amazing.
Last, but not least, is there a mantra that never leaves you?
It’s funny that you are asking me that, because I’m currently trying to find a mantra for meditation. There’s one that stuck with me, it’s not from me at all, a lot of people use it, it’s just “you are enough” and I think there is a lot behind this mantra. A lot of us tend to be very harsh on ourselves, and I think this mantra is really great. And there’s another one that is a little more personal, but that I think is really true for me. I think we should let things come to ourselves, when you are in the right state of mind, and you’re open, and ready, things come to us. “Just open your heart and things will come to you”.