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Instructor Spotlight: Erin Thomas

Get to know one of Vibe’s most beloved instructors, Erin Thomas! Having begun her yoga journey 10 years ago, Erin teaches across all of our class formats, from Hot Sculpt to Honey Flow, and frequently leads innovative workshops like Happy Hips and Empowered Intention. A defining presence around the studio, Erin infuses every class she teaches with a creative balance of power, peace, and play that inspires many a yogi to return for more. We sat down with her on a breezy May morning to learn about her own yoga philosophy.

How does yoga impact your everyday life?

Honestly, in every way. It’s my barometer. It’s my seat belt that encourages me to step back and take a look at how I’m acting or what I’m doing. I think yoga has impacted my relationships of every kind. If you were to ask me 15 years ago, I was the mean girl, and I’ve always been a little bit of a hard ass. That’s the piece of my personality that I have come to love and appreciate, but it didn’t always show itself in the kindest ways. Yoga has filtered out the unnecessary and left me with a really clear picture of who I am, what my gifts are, what I bring into the world, and how I can support those around me to do the same in my own authentic way.

What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had so far as a yoga teacher?

I think the great thing about being a teacher is that you’re constantly inundated with rewarding moments every time you see as student move past a hurdle or roadblock that has been especially challenging to them. These moments can look a hundred thousand different ways, but to me there’s nothing better than seeing the breakthrough of your student. I also find it rewarding when you see someone become inspired to teach, that there are these moments when people move deeper. If I had to give a specific example, I worked with a student privately who had some fairly serious health issues that she was working with and was feeling a little bit weak. She was experiencing pain and was trying to get back into her body. At first, table top and down dog were off the table since there just wasn’t the bone density to support the stacking of the joints in that way. At the end of us working together, she held down dog for three breaths and came out of it with both of us crying because it had been such a process. She went on to do one of our teacher trainings. Just to see her grow and step into her body as it was and own it, to move past those perceived limitations and be a power house, was incredible. It was one of the moments that just stopped me in my tracks.

Speaking of change, how do you think yoga compares to the idea of exercise as an imperative to always be progressing or building?

When the terms ‘exercise’ and ‘change’ are used together, it feels like this goal that you’re marching towards, that you’re physically trying to change your shape, or your muscle mass, or your body fat percentage. In yoga that change is something we’re simply trying to understand and honor because change is always constant. We’re different in the morning than we are at night, different on Monday than we are on Friday, different throughout all of the stages of life. Our bodies will constantly change. Rather than feeling like we have to be the catalyst for that change, yoga asks that we be willing to see how we can actively participant in that cycle without having to rein it in or judge it. One of the things that’s helpful in seeing that is an injury. You automatically have to change what was normal. And we aren’t critical of someone who is injured. We don’t view injury as a negative about their person, whereas we might be negative about someone’s weight or body shape. Change is something you work with, and you adapt and make this practice work for you in the way that it needs to in the moment.

Do you ever pay attention to yourself in the mirror when you’re practicing?

All the time. I think it’s human. I think we’re constantly conditioned to critique and compare. Maybe it’s a western phenomenon, not just a human one. It’s hard because all of us experience those critical thoughts. And how miserable is a yoga practice when you can’t stop staring at how your arm shakes when lifted in Warrior 2? Then you’re feeding the fire of all those judgements we talk about off of our yoga mats.

What would your advice be for students who might feel that commonly?

What we can do first is practice self-compassion. We have to start there, and sometimes it’s the hardest thing to hold yourself accountable for watching that negative self-talk. We think ultimately that yoga is a way to raise the conscious vibration, to lift everyone around us up. I’d love to say what we’re going to change the dialogue about body acceptance and about the innate powers and beauty that we all possess, but that entails breaking a system that’s been around for decades. Starting with compassion means understanding that these thoughts are normal, that we’re conditioned to respond that way, and then being willing to catch ourselves. From there we can shift our internal dialogue from the negative to the positive. We’re simply getting people in connection with their bodies. There’s such a disconnect. We’ve got these physical bodies running around. While we’re so critical of them, we’re not necessarily in tune with our own bodies. By getting into our bodies first, we can find that one seed, that one positive for today. Then we can ask how we might let that grow and expand upon it.

What do you want students to take away from your classes?

I want people to understand that there can be lightness in this powerful practice. If I had to describe myself, I’m reverently irreverent, and I think that there’s space for both in a yoga practice. There’s space to deeply tune in, but there’s also space to lighten up. I hope to provide the space for both to occur on the mat. Ultimately, I hope my students feel supported in making the decisions they need to make. Some need the discipline of powering through a 90- minute class to feel good as they go into the rest of their day, while others need to take one hour for themselves when no one can ask them a question or text them. I hope to be a space holder for whatever people need. I think that that’s the most important job of a yoga teacher, not to correct form or implant ideas, but to hold the space for people to go through whatever they need to go through.

If you were to make a yoga bloopers reel, what would be on it?

Every class I teach. One of the things that stands out, and I tell this story quite a bit, is the cue I used to use for crow pose: “if you fall, the only thing you’ll bruise is your ego”. I’ve stopped saying that. I was in Indy for a workshop, and we were doing crow. Crow has through the years been one of those poses I feel I can pop into on any given day because it’s the first arm balance I learned, and there’s a comfort level there. So I got a little ego-y and dropped out of paying attention. I fell forward and smashed my face right on the bridge of my nose. When I lifted myself up, the instructor was asking “so who’s a yoga teacher” as I had blood in my nose. I had to check my ego in that moment, having bruised it and my face. I’ve also mistimed some assists and landed on people. Once I slipped trying to exit a pose and ended up on a student as he fell to the ground. The thing is, it’s all comedy.

Do you have a favorite, go-to mantra?

I come back to the metta meditation quite a bit: “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be strong. May I find peace.” When I’m going through a particularly rough phase in life, that cycles. For a really long time, I have worked with the word satya, or truthfulness, in the mantra “Is it true? Is it right? Is it necessary?” As one of my filters, the “is it necessary?” part has been beneficial. Those two are home bases, though my mantra changes depending on what’s going on in life. If I’m going through a bout of feeling unworthy, I’ll say “I am loved.” If I need to find empowerment for myself, it’s “I have the ability right here and now.” The mantra always evolves, but I would say the first two are my back-pocket mantras for the roughest of times.

What do we not know about Erin that you would want to share with us?

Probably that I’m an introvert. I know it doesn’t seem that way at the studio. It’s easy to see me as a extrovert, but I love my alone time. When I go home, I’m like “no phone calls, no friends.” I’ve got a finite amount of energy to expel and a lot of it gets used, gratefully, at Vibe. If I decline coffee or dinner, it’s because if I don’t give myself that time to reboot, I show up empty. It’s great that I get to show up and be a part of people’s lives in a way that I think is unique and powerful. It’s like being a priest or a bartender in that you get people’s life stories. We teachers probably get a little bit more information and see different sides of a person than most people do on any given day. And I don’t take that lightly, so I like to be able to show up and fully commit. It also means that when I go home, I’m off grid.

You’ve landed us on a joke. A priest, a bartender, and a yoga teacher walk into a room…

…and together they know literally everything about you.