February 6, 2013

I Drink Coconut Water Only Because I Like the Taste. ~ Elizabeth Clay

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I’ve always been a fan of whims.

Sometimes you just become so passionate about an idea—an instant—that you stop at nothing to make it happen. Decisions like this have led to living in Alaska for the summer and becoming a yoga teacher.

In 2004, after practicing yoga for four years, I went to Mexico. I immersed myself in training, and when I came home I was ready to teach. Look out, Ohio—there’s a new guru in town.

I taught off and on for about four years before becoming a ‘serious’ yoga teacher (i.e. teaching as my main source of income while I was working on my Ph.D.). In 2008, I began teaching at a studio and thought I was the shit.


I would rattle off quotes and nuggets of spiritual wisdom. I would insist that my students “Be the change” like Gandhi said or that Mother Teresa was right when she said “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” And obviously, if I recited these quotes it was because I practiced what I preached.

Then it happened.

My best friend told me she wanted to take my yoga class. I pretended to be excited, but in all honesty, this was big trouble for me. I knew the second I opened my mouth, she’d call bullshit on all of my spiritual, well, bullshit.

She’d know that girl in front of the class talking about  the importance of forgiveness was the the same girl that held a grudge against an ex-boyfriend musician that failed to thank her in the liner notes of his CD while they were dating.

She’d know that the girl in front of the class talking about experiencing life firsthand was the same girl who, when deciding she wanted to be a runner, bought a book about running instead of just putting on a pair of shoes and opening the door.

She’d know that the girl in front of the class talking about the importance of respecting your body was the same girl who, on her 30th birthday, did one too many tequila shots and ended up throwing up on a stranger.

You can see where this is going.

My best friend knows me as Elizabeth—not as “yoga teacher Elizabeth.”  The two identities were separate and didn’t mesh. Until that point, they didn’t need to.

She came to my class, and a funny thing happened—I avoided all the quotes. I taught like I was teaching a friend, not like I was teaching people who relied on me for quotes about integrity. The class was lighthearted and playful.    Everyone left smiling—myself, included.

Fast forward to almost five years later and I’m getting ready to open my own studio in Pittsburgh. Hiring teachers has been a process. Besides looking for qualified teachers, I’m looking for teachers who, when teaching, I could see myself having a beer with after class. At my studio, I’m creating an environment where everyone—even the teachers—can come as they are and be accepted. Where you don’t have to pretend to be a better version of yourself just because you’re sitting on a yoga mat.

My current 500-hour training is teaching me to be myself. How ridiculous is that? I’m starting to notice where I’ve worn a mask in my life—whether as a yoga teacher, an English teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a customer—you name it—and I’m becoming more comfortable and confident in making every decision based on what is truest to me.

It’s almost too easy. And the best part about it? I go to bed knowing that I am giving the world something it’s never experienced before and will never experience again—me.

Oh and those whims I was talking about earlier? It turns out when I’m being present, life is much more whimsical and fun than I ever imagined possible.

You can even quote me on it.


Elizabeth Clay owns Clay Yoga in Pittsburgh, PA.  She is known for laughing louder everyone in the room, making the best salted chocolate brownies in the history of mankind, and her off-key rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.” She has been teaching yoga since 2004 and is currently working on her 500-hour certification through Live, Love, Teach.  You can email her at [email protected].  She’ll probably write back. Maybe even in first person.

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