What brought you to yoga?
Before I moved to town, I had been visiting Bloomington and went to Vibe with friends a few times. When I moved here, Harmony encouraged me to take her class. It was awesome. I had done yoga in undergrad at the recreation center, but it wasn’t really the same. With Harmony’s class, that was the first time that I intentionally went with an idea of what I would get out of it.
What made you want to continue, and what made you want to teach?
I continued yoga because it was my way of working out. It was my stress release and a thing I had in Bloomington that was mine. Erin Thomas encouraged me to teach. One day at the studio she just asked me, “Have you thought about teacher training?” I said, “No, but now I have!” It took me a long time to decide to do it, then when I did, I kind of went all out. I quit my job at the library, did teacher training, and worked part-time jobs for a while.
That sounds like a big change. What made you want to pursue a different path?
I wasn’t happy with my job at all. I was tired of staring at a computer in a cubicle all day. Yoga offered a different trajectory that I thought I might be interested in. It was terrifying to quit my job, go do teacher training, and not know what was going to come out of it or how I was going to feel. Now I’m back at the library. I loved working at the studio. I needed the change, but I missed being in a library ultimately. I had jumped into school and done undergrad and graduate school all in one shot without really thinking about why I was going to school. It was nice to take that break, re-evaluate, and go back. I love my job now. I get to talk to people all day, which is nice.
How does yoga connect with your life off the mat?
It’s my baseline for how I want to be. In my personal life, I try to think about the four agreements—be impeccable with your word, take nothing personally, assume nothing, and do your best—and all the yoga sutras. I think about what I’ve learned through teacher training and how that translates to the way I want to be as a human. I’ve always felt good emotionally, mentally, and physically after yoga. It’s nice to remember why and take that out into the world.
What’s a way in which that baseline shows up for you?
Yoga changed my sense of myself, or the way I viewed myself. Every day I still find that I think negative thoughts about myself or talk down to myself, but then I pause and think, “No! That’s not how I want to be.” If I’m going to be a good person to everybody else, I have to be a good person to myself first.
How would you describe your yoga style?
Chill, but powerful. In my classes, I like to provide an environment that people can relax in, but personally, I like to get a workout. If I’m going to be committing to something for an hour, I want it to be worth it. I know that people who go to yoga for the workout really need the relaxation part, almost more than others do, so I try to balance the two.
As either a teacher or a practitioner, what’s something unexpected that you’ve found through yoga?
Something I always come back to is a simple phrase that hit me really hard during teacher training: “No is a complete sentence.” I tend to try to do everything all the time and feel bad when I can’t. Hearing that phrase, I thought, “Whoa, that’s actually so true!” It means you’re allowed to take time for yourself, and you’re allowed not to do everything that’s asked of you. You don’t have to give a reason. You don’t have to give excuses. You can just say no.
How would you describe the purpose of yoga?
It’s just a way of life. To me, it means being a kind human, to yourself, to others, to everything around you. And kind can mean a variety of things. It doesn’t have to mean being nice. It just means you’re aware and mindful. It’s a guideline for how people can be.
Do you have a specific mantra you like to work with?
I like om gam ganapataye namaha. It’s an homage mantra to Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. I use this mantra when I need to get through something tough, or when I know something big is about to happen, like buying a house. I used it a lot during that time. I offer the mantra in classes as a way of grounding. When I got into yoga, I was doing Jillian Michaels workouts that advertise things like “six weeks, six pack!” Just the one timeline, and then you’re done. But with yoga, the process never stops. You can always do something new, or you get injured and have this new obstacle that you’re working with.
What’s something you want people to know about yoga?
The baseline is that it’s not a competition. I try to bring a lot of my ultimate frisbee friends to my class, and their excuses are usually “I don’t know what I’m doing” or “I can’t touch my toes anyway. I need to be able to do that before I can come.” Just come and try it. You don’t have to compete with yourself or anybody else. They also talk a lot about how they don’t want to be the person who doesn’t know what they’re doing, but no one else cares.
There’s something for everyone in yoga, whether you’re into the physical part or you want to get into yoga philosophy and learn Sanskrit. Everyone should try it out just once. Or maybe give it three tries. It’s like three oms at end of class: the first time, it’s maybe you and a couple of other people; the second time, a couple more people join; and then the last time, the whole room is in.
What do you want students to take away from your classes?
Just whatever they need. I want people to leave feeling fulfilled, for whatever reason that they came. I also want people to be more relaxed.
What’s your favorite moment in every class you teach?
When someone does something that they didn’t think they could do, or you see their face when they nail a pose they’ve been working towards for a long time. While practicing, especially lately since I don’t get to the studio as often as I want, there’s usually a point at the beginning when I think, “This is gonna be rough.” Once I get into it physically and feel myself following the instructor’s cues, though, I remember why I love yoga so much.
Would you share a fun Steph fact with us?
I have a pizza slice tattoo that’s for my cat Floyd. Floyd was older when my partner Jacob and I adopted him. As a kitten, he had been found in a dumpster at Wendy’s, so he loved cheesy, oily food. Anytime we brought pizza home, he would immediately try to chew the box open, so we would share pizza slices with him. He loved mushroom pizza. When he passed away, Jacob and I decided to get memorial tattoos of a pizza slice.