Do you remember your first time?
The first time someone looked to you as an expert?
It was 2014; Twist Yoga was retreating in India. I had been a leader on projects before, but yoga? Nah. Even though I owned a yoga studio, in the early years I set it up so I could call myself just the back of the house.
I was uninspiring; the non-creative business person. I intentionally put other teachers between the eyes of clients and me, told myself I was comfortable as the unseen. Even though I really wasn’t.
Anyway, a guest needed help with something she was struggling with, and from across the table at breakfast, asked me for guidance. This was weird, because my co-teacher of that retreat had firmly established herself as the Important One years before, a dynamic I went along with, well, because. (Read on; it will be clear then.)
Before I spoke, I checked to see if the woman was talking to me.
You know, like back in the day when you were at a club and someone you thought was adorable waved at you from across the room and you had to do a quick double-take to see if it wasn’t some other person behind you they were flirting with.
Eight years ago, that day at the breakfast table ignited a spark that helped me to evolve into a the role of a confident leader today and truly loving how the Twist Crew and I help our community.
I’m proud of us; some positive shifts are afoot as we are arriving after a wild 2.5 years with a revised understanding of our values and mission.
But. It’s been a looong, non-linear, personal process to get here…
It’s been 25 years since I started teaching yoga. The 2014 breakfast table spark, fanned hard by lessons learned in 2019 and the last 2.5 pandemic years. These years stripped me (whether I was ready for it or not) of long limiting beliefs: I can now confidently call myself a leader and a helper.
How I finally came to embrace this role, and even further back of why of how I started Twist Yoga, follows in this origin story:
I grew up solidly middle class in Northeast Seattle. In the 70s and 80s, the View Ridge neighborhood felt working-class suburban; of course now I barely recognize it for how absurdly wealthy it is.
My father still lives in the house I grew up in: Same furniture. Same early ‘80s beige kitchen sink and bathtub. Every time I visit, I step back in time.
I was raised in relative privilege, as any person growing up with a general feeling of safety does.
I attended honors classes at decently-funded NE Seattle Public Schools with pretty much the same people throughout the years. Although we were not what you would call wealthy, I never really wanted for much: Food was always on the table, I don’t recall my parents struggling to pay the bills. We travelled once or twice a year, and I spent my teen years busy with friends, activities, sports and homework and was proud to earn my own spending money working after school and summer jobs. I felt physically safe in my home, in my neighborhood and at school.
I’m blessed to have grown up the way I did.
….What is also true:
I grew up an only child in the shadow of my father’s unresolved childhood trauma and my mother’s decade-long fatal, terminal illness.
It was lonely in our household of 3; we often kept to ourselves and spent time alone in our own corners. There were many things unsaid. We were a closed family; with shame and secrets and illness bubbling just below the surface.
Our pain and hurt were never resolved. Instead, shut down. Buried. Gaslit. I spent my time at friends’ houses; I was embarrassed for them to come to mine. I didn’t have these words for it then: but the energy in our home was heavy.
Despite how hard I appear to many, I am a sensitive and emotional person, empathic to the point where I can sense thoughts of others and can predict with relative accuracy most folks’ behaviors.
So it’s no surprise that I developed all sorts of codependent behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms to medicate my confusion, loneliness and emotional pain.
I viewed four years as an UW undergraduate through a beer bottle and engaged in a series of codependent and dysfunctional relationships with childish Greek system boys playing grown up (except you, Ted Duncan, if you’re reading this).
Rather than enjoying university, I spent my energy deep in body shame and hated myself because I thought I was fat…. even though at 5’6”, I weighed 125 pounds. I developed a truly bizarre relationship to food, rooted in cheese and sugar addiction and alternating between rigid 1980’s Jenny Craig-style freeze-dried food diets and using food as a source of late night binge celebration, connection and reward.
In my twenties, I fled Seattle and idea of corporate-life trajectory and lived and bartended in Hawaii. I’m not going to lie: Hawaii is a great place to be when you’re 25.
But the way I was caring for myself was horrendous, I was smoking a half pack of Camel lights a day, binge drinking several nights a week while simultaneously bartending until 3am and putting myself through graduate school, aided by a line of cocaine up my nose before my 8am class.
I was exhausted in so many ways.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also anxious and depressed. My family didn’t converse about mental health, so it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I had the words or context to understand my struggles, at the root of which I realize was a deep feeling of disconnect and loneliness.
Health in was different in the 1970s and 80s: I recall my friend treating her Type 1 diabetes with a pack of peanut M&Ms. My mother drank Tab for breakfast. And lunch. Tang was a thing. Nourishing, balanced, high vibrational meals and self-care practices were not.
By my mid 20s, I had zero boundaries, yet as a survival mechanism, I also managed to be controlling and ridiculously codependent, so no surprise here: I found myself in a two-year abusive relationship with an alcoholic who was a chronic cheater. I suspect he also had a sex addiction; although that wasn’t on the DSM then.
The day that relationship ended, straightaway I went on my first date with a man whom I would marry a year later.
He was a good guy but not for me. I’m not even going to bother writing about the next two years because it’s all the same old storyline.
The day I drove away from my marriage with only a single suitcase and the dog we’d adopted together was the day I took my first steps on my healing journey.
I quit alcohol for two years, and, after a few months of sobriety, quit the cigarettes. I was 28.
Around that time, I began glimpsing the benefit of not caring so much about my father’s controlling tendencies and his feelings about things. Although this is still ongoing, it was a first step to what would be a slow, messy and non-linear climb out of codependency.
That year I had my first of many inklings that the key to living a purpose-driven life was an inside job; that nothing outside of myself – no substance, relationship or achievement – could make me feel whole in a sustainable way.
Within a month of leaving my husband, I found rewarding work teaching high school in Seattle. I fell in love with spinning and yoga; for the first time in my life I was exercising not because I hated the shape of my body and wanted to change it, but because moving and sweating simply felt powerful and good.
I also discovered I had charisma teaching exercise classes, which was bizarre because I always considered myself unlikeable and fairly socially awkward. Turns out, I have a natural knack helping and empowering others to uncover their strength and gifts.
For every step forward, I took one (or two) back. Even though I was peeling back the layers that revealed my magnificient self, I continued to engage in behavior that masked my shame and low self worth.
I spent the better part of the next five years in therapy and crying on my yoga mat.
I’ve been blessed to cross paths with several important yoga teachers in the past 20 years; who probably don’t know their impact. David Seborer was a kind, soft-spoken and empathetic and my first yoga teacher at the now defunct Westlake Club on Queen Anne. In lieu of drinking at the Tractor Tavern with my friends, I took his class every Friday night for a year. He showed me it was possible to be a soft place to land and boundaried at the same time.
Judith Hanson Lasater saw me, showed me empathy and taught me how to offer empathy. Up til meeting Judith, I didn’t even know what empathy was. I was motherless, and she felt like one. My work with Judith helped me start to know myself and my heart’s needs better and recognize how to help others.
These days, though, I’m curious about disruptors in the wellness industry, although none of them are attractive enough to pay much attention to, let alone study with.
Because for all I’ve learned from these teachers, none of them taught me how to be a helper or healer.
I taught myself to be a healer. I am a helper because I’ve been so broken. Because I’ve pulled myself up and dusted myself off more times than I can count. Believe me when I say I’ve felt it all and I understand.
Seven years ago, I threw myself under an employee-driven bus in the name of diplomacy for the last time. Four years ago I finally disentangled myself from a man who I never was meant for nor was worthy of my attention. Three years ago I freed myself from the last toxic employee relationship I will ever force out of fear of loss. I emphatically say I’ll do none of these things again.
My dance with cigarettes and binge drinking is long, long gone. Two years ago, burnt out and feeling temporarily purposeless, I took the leap to live a life my daughter and I had dreamed in Paris. She and I both learned a few new things; She is now a capable teenager whom I adore.
There are lots of ways to flee from pain; I’ve tried most of them. I am a healer, because I’ve been learning how to get out of pain for 25 years and find I can now do so with fewer substances and more healthy boundaries and self respect. In 2022 and beyond, I feel no choice but to dedicate myself to helping others do the same.
I opened Twist Yoga in 2009, after I’d been teaching for a decade.
Small business ownership has almost taken me out more times than I can count. But true to what I’d learned on my yoga mat, Twist Yoga continues to help me address my patterns of control and perfectionism. It helps me to set boundaries, and be comfortable with the idea of discomfort and failure.
It shined the spotlight for the many good of my life, taught me how to say my dreams outloud, then connect to the voice of my Intuition to take the next steps to achieve them.
I love cheese still, and still soothe myself with something frothy and creamy and caffeinated when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Money – or the lack of it after 17 months of unpaid sabbatical – is still knocking on my consciousness, but what’s not happening is my former devastating and clinging fear that I’m going to lose it all.
And as I’ve come out of each struggle, I’ve felt my life guiding me to the even deeper work. If you’re reading this, it’s a sure sign YOU are here to find out more about how you can do the same, in your own unique way.
The Twist Yoga crew would love to help you. They’re pretty great people by this point, because after all this, I now sense nearly right away that a potential employee is a healthy one.
Please, come to a class.
After you arrive, it all starts with a deep breath, and your willingness to connect to your body, and re-write the story about discomfort you may encounter.
Feeling is the path to healing. And we’re honored to get to walk with you for however long of a time you want.
Welcome to Twist Yoga. We’re so glad you’re here.
All my love, Jen.