I sat on the bench outside the Integral Yoga Institute (IYI) in New York City yelling into my cell phone at my boss, “Forget it, I’m done. I can’t take this anymore. I quit!” People coming out of the IYI stared at me in horror. An ashram is not exactly the place to be screaming and having a nervous breakdown.
Just then, my friend Jen, a fellow Yoga teacher, sat down next to me and put her arm around me. I burst into tears. I had just quit my third job in television in a year and a half. I hated developing reality TV and just couldn’t take it anymore. After 18 years, I was tired of the TV business and sick of living in NYC. I was exhausted— exhausted by the noise, the pace, the pollution and all the stress of the city. No matter how hard I tried to quiet my mind with Yoga and meditation, I felt more agitated than ever. What was wrong with me?
Making matters worse, I had just injured my hip in Yoga class and was struggling to get through my Integral Yoga Intermediate Teacher Training program. I could barely come into downward facing dog without suddenly feeling a shooting pain through the back of my left hip. I knew I wouldn’t make it through. As all my frustrations exploded that September afternoon, I heard a little voice in my head repeat just two words: let go, LET GO! Let go of everything . . . everything I was struggling against, everything I was clinging to, everything I thought I knew. In Yoga, we call this vairagya, or non-attachment. This practice isn’t easy, but it was enough to change my life.
Ever since I was a little girl, I had always dreamed of living in New York City. I had it all figured out. I wanted all the glamour and excitement of the Big Apple, and I would stop at nothing to get it. That dream came true when I was 25 years old and moved to New York City with lots of hopes, but no job. Each morning, I got up and was out the door by 9 a.m., beating the pavement looking for work.
My persistence paid off within a few months and I got a job at ABC News working on a documentary project. I loved my job—the work was both fascinating and fun. I literally poured myself into my career for the next 12 years at the network. Everything took a back seat—boyfriends, family, vacations. I became a workaholic, which seemed quite normal to me at the time. But as much as I tried to deny it to myself, I could feel the burnout creeping in.
Then one day at work, one of my colleagues suggested we try a Yoga class at the Sivananda Center. “I don’t know,” I told her, “the last time I tried Yoga, I didn’t like it and almost got stuck in a twisted pose.” “Oh, come on,” she said, “it will help us relax, and they’re serving a free lunch.” I only went for the free lunch. The minute the class began, I wanted to leave. What are they chanting? Why are they all dressed in orange? Is this some kind of cult? Forget it, I’m not standing on my head. But I was too embarrassed to leave, so I did my best to get through it. The delicious Indian lunch afterwards made the whole ordeal worth it.
I had no intention of returning, but I did buy one of their audiotapes and started practicing Yoga at home. I especially enjoyed savasana, or deep relaxation, when I could completely let go. Soon I was practicing Yoga every morning. As my mind and body began to relax, I started to think about my life more deeply and realized that I didn’t want to be working so hard. Finally, after a few years of soul searching, I quit ABC. It was a terrifying moment to leave the place I had worked for 12 years, but I knew it was necessary.
Within a few months, I was lucky enough to land a new job with NBC News, working in development for their new division that produced cable documentaries. This job felt right up my alley—I could continue producing documentaries, work regular hours, not travel so much and pursue other interests.
But what exactly were my “other” interests? I was 37 years old and had no hobbies. So during one of my first real vacations in years, I wrote in my journal what I wanted to do: take Yoga classes and learn to paint. So that fall, I walked into my first Yoga class at the Jivamukti Yoga school. People next to me were doing handstands and wrapping their leg over their heads. I panicked again. I don’t belong here. As I turned to make my quick escape, the teacher shut the door. I sat on my mat and started to sweat. I tried to relax. Oh no, not chanting again! I refused to sing along and sat there waiting for it to end. Then, the teacher started to talk. “Don’t let fear hold you back,” she said. “Let it go.” Suddenly, my body softened, and I thought, good point, this is just Yoga, relax and have fun. That first class was like nothing I had ever experienced before—it was physically, mentally and emotionally demanding, yet exhilarating all at the same time. I was hooked.
I applied that same fearless attitude toward my painting classes and suddenly, I felt like I had a life again. I was working during the week and painting and going to Yoga classes on weekends. About a year into my new job, things started to get more stressful. We were all under a lot of pressure to sell shows to cable, but the documentaries we had been producing weren’t selling anymore. There was a new game in town, and it was called reality. In fact, there was nothing real about reality TV. Suddenly, I found myself looking for desperate women, dangerous jobs and cupcake masters.
As I sat in a three-hour meeting one afternoon brainstorming new midget shows and eating pizza, it hit me, “What the heck are you doing?” I started to feel like I had a split personality—there was the Caroline who believed in Yoga, spirituality and healing; and then there was the Caroline who was selling toxic TV shows that made fun of people and exploited them. So who was I? I knew, but I kept on pretending.
Around that time, I had decided to begin a teacher training program at the Integral Yoga Institute. My classes at Jivamukti had blown my mind wide open to what Yoga was really all about. Then, I took a class at the IYI and realized what Yoga could really do. It was a therapeutic practice for all kinds of people—young, old, healthy, sick. The IYI had classes for people living with HIV, military veterans with PTSD, people with arthritis.
I knew then that my purpose in life was to bring this healing practice to as many people as I could. My year-long training was transformative. For someone who hated chanting, I now chanted every morning before meditation. My practice and the training anchored me in a sea of turbulence at work. The deeper my practice, the more shallow my work seemed. So, after my contract with NBC was finished, I surprised everyone and quit. My boss looked at me on my last day and asked, “Are you scared?” “Nope,” I replied. I lied.
The next year and a half as I embraced my new life as a Yoga teacher, I floundered on the work front. I tried to get back to documentaries but, every time a job seemed promising, the money fell through and the opportunity floated away. I soon gravitated back to what I knew—developing reality shows. “I know, I know,” I told myself, “this stinks, but you need the money, and hey, it’s just a job.” Who was I kidding? Soon I was disenchanted and disgusted all over again. “I need to get out of TV!” was a constant theme in my life. So why was I still stuck here? In meditation one morning the answer dawned on me: I was still trying to fulfill that childhood dream of living in the Big Apple. Mind you, it wasn’t so glamorous or exciting anymore. I could barely afford it, and I had left a string of bad jobs and boyfriends in my wake.
Which brings me back to my breakdown on the bench that day. I finally accepted the fact that to move forward, I had to let go. So I decided to let go of it ALL—my job, my teaching, my friends and finally New York City. That night, I slept well for the first time in a long time. The next morning my hip felt a little better. I decided to move back to Washington, DC by the end of the year. I wanted to return to my roots in journalism and live closer to my family. I even started to explore where to teach Yoga and decided to focus on therapeutic and prenatal Yoga, instead of teaching advanced classes.
Am I scared? Sure. Who knows what will happen next, but I have learned that on the other side of uncertainty is opportunity. And the only way to get there is to let go.
About the Author:
Caroline Kalya Christopher is a documentary filmmaker and certified Integral Yoga® teacher who teaches Hatha I, restorative, prenatal and postnatal classes in Washington, DC. After 12 years practicing Yoga, Kalya discovered the Integral Yoga Institute in 2008 and decided to become a teacher. She is grateful to all her teachers and students for helping her discover her passion for teaching.