“A yoga teacher” is probably not the first answer you will hear from most people when you ask “what do you want to become one day?”. So how is it that someone decides to follow this path? How do you realize that teaching yoga is your passion and you want to live out of it?
At Women On Topp, we had the opportunity to conduct a Q&A session with Elena Theodorou. We talked about her career as a yoga teacher, how she started, the way she helps new instructors, and her advice to yogis who aspire to teach yoga and make it a profession. Read on and get inspired by her story!
Please can you tell us about your journey, and how you first got interested in yoga?
I took a leap of faith last year 2019 to teach yoga full time! I left my safe full-time job with benefits because I knew this path and lifestyle was calling to me as many opportunities were already coming my way. I filled up my schedule with various classes in different fitness centers and studios along with some private sessions. I even got to teach at a music and art festival in Colorado! Like many this year in 2020, I felt like everything I had worked for was ripped away from me due to the pandemic. Little did I know it was actually a blessing. I transitioned to teaching online virtually and spent the summer teaching outside in the park, as well as in a Himalayan Salt Cave. My community, brand, business and myself have grown with so much trust and love. As far as when I first got interested in Yoga – It all began when I was in a fatal car accident in 2009. Between holistic and alternative therapy – Yoga truly helped me overcome the mental, emotional and physical trauma that I had experienced (and still very much supports and helps me with any struggles to this day). My personal practice began in 2012. I started as a Bikram yogi, I really loved the heat and sweat. As time passed, I found myself mostly practicing and called towards Vinyasa/Hatha and Yin/Restorative. In 2017 I travelled abroad to Thailand to receive my 200-hour classical teacher training certification! I was immersed in the program full time in paradise and made some great friends/sisters. It was life-changing and everything my soul needed.
Why did you decide to start teaching yoga?
The movement has always been a creative outlet for me physically, while simultaneously balancing my mental and emotional health. I grew up as a dancer competing and performing throughout the elementary school all the way through to college. When I came across yoga not too long after the car accident, I saw how much more there is beyond the poses and I knew I wanted to dive deeper into it. As a New Yorker, I constantly felt pressured and overwhelmed (even in the dance world) and I was settling for mediocre jobs that I was unhappy with. I thought it was the “right” thing to do. I graduated from college with a Hotel Management degree and a Family & Consumer degree, minoring in Food Management. Hospitality comes naturally for me, but the environment and responsibilities itself wasn’t exactly what I hoped it to be. I knew I was spiritually meant for much more and that I wanted to help people feel supported and feel good! After many years of trials and tribulation, I ultimately got tired of my own sh*t feeling “stuck” and decided it was time to listen to my inner voice and take a chance. I was standing in my own way through my own limiting beliefs, insecurities, along with societal pressures and comparison to other achievements. This calling got louder, clear and stronger and I finally listened to my heart’s calling.
What challenges does yoga help you overcome?
Yoga guides me through clarity and awareness to my inner narrative/dialogue and the relationship within myself and with others. The connection I now have within myself is honest, healthy, trusting, loving and nurturing. Yoga empowers me through confidence in owning and claiming my energetic power and being grateful for my body and breath (something a lot of us forget about and take for granted). This practice which is now integrated into my lifestyle has helped me overcome substance abuse, anxiety and PTSD. I still have moments of anxiety and PTSD and am able to use these tools to be with my “stuff”, transmute it and have overall balance and freedom by helping myself and sharing this knowledge and practice with others. Yoga reminds me to slow down and be intentional with how I am spending my time and with who. Yoga reminds me to embrace and feel joy in the little things, to live and be here NOW!
Can you tell us a bit about what your classes are like? I hear you sometimes incorporate meditation into them?
My classes are open to all level practitioners. It doesn’t matter if you’re an advanced yogi or totally new with yoga – I offer variations and modifications so that everyone can access the poses. I love to incorporate pranayama (breathwork) and meditation into my sessions as well. Through asana (physical practice) and pranayama, the body and mind is prepared for meditation. It is super important that we take time to be still and tune in to the chatter of the mind which eventually helps to truly listen to the messages that are coming through – and of course for stress relief and relaxation. I encourage my students to have an open mind and heart, not to have expectations or be too hard on themselves, have fun and to explore the space between challenge and letting go.
Have you got any tips for anyone who is new to yoga? What can they do to get started?
Try different styles of yoga and teachers, whether that’s in person or online. Let go of any limiting beliefs and give yourself permission to just be present in the moment. There will be times when your practice won’t feel good. As multidimensional beings we all have “stuff”, embrace your humanity and your uniqueness! Our mat can be a vulnerable place. Just remember vulnerability will set us free. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t force any postures that aren’t happening yet. Things take time through consistency, accountability and devotion. Be kind to yourself and tell that mean voice inside – NOT TODAY! Feel grateful for all that you are and have. Everybody’s bodies are different, listen to yours, be accepting and trust! Most importantly ENJOY YOURSELF!
Do you have a mission as a yoga teacher? What would you like to achieve?
My passion and mission in supporting, guiding and empowering others to tap into self-awareness, mindfulness and their own inner teacher is what fuels me as a human/teacher/student plus all the benefits of movement and ancient yogic tools of wisdom. I want my students to feel mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually strong, confident, flexible, open, balanced and receptive.
What do you think makes a good yoga teacher?
My creative, adaptive and intuitive abilities to connect with people by creating a safe, fun and comforting space to come together and connect. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not or claim to have all the answers. For me authenticity and integrity are key. Perfection doesn’t exist and I am often a gentle, honest yet fierce reminder that it’s okay not to always feel okay and to celebrate your victories no matter how big or small. We truly can achieve anything we set our hearts and minds to. As a compassionate person, people are often naturally drawn to me feeling secure and trusting in my presence. I used to think my sensitivity made me weak and over time I’ve learned it is actually one of my greatest gifts and strengths that I am thankful to have and feel.
How did it feel after you taught your first-ever class?
I was definitely nervous (but you would never know haha!) My first time teaching was in Thailand during my teacher training. There were about 8 of us total. I really loved our small and intimate group. We all took turns to get a feel for what it would be like and to give each other feedback. Even though it was scary it honestly felt VERY natural for me! That was something my teacher noticed as well. It just felt so incredibly right. When I came home to New York it was definitely even more nerve-wracking because I immediately had a much larger class attendance for a gym that I was subbing in. The feedback was lovely and put me and my overthinking at ease!
What tips do you have for those who want to renew their life as in a new job, moving, etc?
GO FOR IT! It will feel scary as hell not knowing what the outcome will be but you will feel so good knowing you listened to and trusted yourself. Sure, the easy way is comfortable and secure – but if it’s a thought, feeling or idea that is constantly calling to you, choose faith over fear! I don’t encourage being impulsive, what has helped me gain clarity and take action is writing/journaling and having these conversations with people who don’t project their own limitations onto you. Along with journaling and meditation being helpful in making decisions – so is research. Take your time, feel things out and revisit your ideas. You will know deep down in your heart and your gut if it’s for you.
Either a lesson learned will come from it or it will be everything you desire. Either way, it’s an opportunity for experience and growth, so you won’t look back on your life with regret wishing or wondering what could have been. Surround yourself with like-minded people who also believe in your vision and are creating/living in their own dreams as well. Stay away from people who constantly have drama, gossip and are committed to misunderstanding you and downplaying your goals. Boundaries are super important to have for healthy relationships and peace of mind for yourself.
If you had one-piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Be yourself!! Your vibe will naturally build a tribe that supports, respects and loves/appreciates you just as you are! You are worthy and deserving of the abundance that is here. Also, it’s okay to ask for help!