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February 8, 2019

Connecting the Dots (Part 6): How I Went from Being a San Francisco CFO to an Athens Yoga Instructor

This is part of a series called Connecting the Dots: How I Went from Being a San Francisco CFO to an Athens Yoga Instructor. The first installment is here.  Last week’s installment is here.

1.5-1.6  A Festival in a Field in France (August 2009)


I’ve got to hand it to my Kundalini Yoga teachers-they were right when they said “The students who start teacher training not wanting to teach, those become the teachers.”  By May of 2009 when I finally finished my 200 hours, I felt I had gotten so much out of the training that I should pass the knowledge on. Going into the program, I was angry about a lot of things–the circumstances surrounding my father’s death, family dynamics, the behavior of some people in my life at the time, lots of things. But by the end of training, most of my anger had dissolved. I felt light and refreshed, like a new chapter was starting. I didn’t feel like a “real” teacher yet, so I started volunteer teaching at homeless shelters in San Francisco. This worked well for me for my first few months. It helped me find my voice as a teacher with an audience that was forgiving. My homeless shelter students were just happy to have a cheerful, stable person in their environment.

My teachers had warned us that many times people end up with changed relationships after completing Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training.  “A lot of relationships are based on mutual dysfunction. Both people have an unspoken agreement not to call each other out on their issues. When you start to wake up, you may find some of your relationships don’t make sense any longer.” I was lucky this didn’t happen to me. My friends saw I was changing and were supportive of the newer version of me. They commented “ You’re still you, you’re just more available.” And on my side, I didn’t care that we were on different paths. I wasn’t looking for company. I just wanted support. So in many ways, my life stayed the same with the same finance job and the same friends surrounding me.

One of these friendships was my college friend, John. We met at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and in 2009, we were both living in San Francisco. When he decide to have a big birthday celebration that year in the south of France, I was excited to join the group. Since I was going to make the long flight anyway, I decided to look around at what else I could do in the area. And as luck would have it, the European Kundalini Yoga festival was happening the week before his birthday celebration. This seemed like a logical extension after my Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training so I signed up.

They really should rebrand these Kundalini Yoga festivals. They should be called bootcamps or maybe yoga prison. When I think “festival,” I imagine food booths, music stages, and a relaxed, party type of environment. This was the opposite. The schedule was brutal. Food was scarce. Showers were cold. Accommodations were crowded. And there was no coffee anywhere.

The basic schedule is to rise in the dark to get to a field by 4:30 a.m. where we all do a morning practice together. The practice lasts two and a half hours and includes chanting, yoga and meditation. You do this every day as a warm up. Then the real day begins.

7:00 a.m. is breakfast, one of two meals of the day, where you get 2 oranges, 2 bananas and a bowl of onion soup. Then the day begins. The days are punctuated by classes, and the these go beyond just yoga. They have classes about family constellations, gatka (an Indian martial art), tantric numerology and more.  And then, on the fourth day, begins the real focus of the festival—three days of White Tantric Yoga.

By the end of three days of White Tantric Yoga after rising at 4:00 a.m. all week and eating rationed food, I was exhausted. When I finally left the festival, I felt like I was being released from prison. My first sip of coffee at the train station tasted like paradise.

But while all this was hard, there was one unexpected pleasant surprise. I didn’t realize how much I would love hearing all the different languages around me. Over 2,000 people from all over the world come together at European Kundalini Yoga festival.  Everywhere I walked there was a swirl of languages. The festival is conducted in English but for the big classes, everyone is divided by language group. The Germans are by far the biggest group, followed by the French, the Spanish and then the Italians. I loved watching how the German section would be totally organized and silent, waiting for instructions.  And how the Spanish area would be in chaos, everyone talking, laughing and passing food. I admired this and tried to sit near the Spanish section as often as possible. There were people from Russia, China, even a few from South America. It was impressive.

Going to France reminded me of how much I enjoy Europe. And the festival reminded me how much I used to love languages.

In high school I had taken French, German and Spanish all at the same time because I liked learning foreign languages and the way it made my brain work.  This is not to say I am gifted at languages–I’m not. I was a solid B student in my language classes then and continue to struggle with Greek even now. It is just something I enjoy.

But when it came time for college, I got practical. I was raised in a strict environment and wanted to be free from that forever. Self-reliance became the top priority. So I mapped out what I thought was the fastest path to personal freedom, a college degree in business economics, and pursued that. I didn’t love it but I didn’t mind it either, and I knew it would give me options in my future. Once I started down that path, I just kept going. I finished my degree, passed the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and became a finance person. And for years, this is what I did. The curiosity about foreign language and culture went dormant. But after the trip to France and the festival, my love of languages started to wake up again, and this became a dot in my journey.

Next:1.6-1.7 How I Crafted My Own “Study Abroad” Program

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