A couple years ago I unintentionally began forming my wellness squad: a group of special people that have played a pivotal role in my establishment and maintenance of positive well-being. They bring joy, positivity, camaraderie, like-mindedness, motivation and improved evolution of my mind, body and spirit. That comes in the form of fitness influences, intellectual influences, spiritual influences, nutritional influences, and more. As such, my tip for wellness this week is to find yourself your own wellness squad – that community of people who will get you through the highs and lows of life and keep you accountable to be the best you can be.
To that end, I’m excited to introduce you to one of those people in my wellness squad…my yoga instructor, Tracey Gutman of Simply Yoga Atlanta. Tracey is one of those people who crosses your path and you know you’re going to be better because of it. She has offered me so much more than “simply yoga” including: thoughtful guidance, permission to let go, successful goat-wrangling of my mind, expressed kindness, and sometimes just a good kick-in-the-pants when I needed it. I wanted to share her perspective on the practice of yoga – especially for those who wanted to learn more at a high level, or have been intimidated by the idea of it. Tracey is passionate in letting people know that yoga is for EVERYONE, and benefits she has seen in her clients, myself included, go far beyond the physical.
Here are some of Tracey’s who, what, when, where, why and how of yoga from a recent conversation with The Well-Intended:
Q: What was your path to yoga first as a practice, then ultimately as a private yoga instructor?
Well, I’m a lot like you: I got an undergrad business degree then pursued a career in marketing. I’m a regular person who sat at a desk day in and day out, and over time, started to feel that I had a calling for something more meaningful that was in concert with my personal values. So I left my marketing role for a non-linear career-path that began with establishing one of the first doggy daycares in Atlanta. It was an opportunity I embraced to meld my passion, creativity, positive energy and desire for more freedom to be myself…my true self. Until that point, I didn’t even realize how suppressed I had been feeling in my first career. But, pursuing something that I really cared about was both liberating and invigorating at the same time.
From there, life continued to show me signs that it was time for further evolution and I followed the winding path accordingly. Yoga was a practice that gave me strength and comfort during emotional challenges in life in which I’m sure we can all relate. In this case, most notably, I had just had a baby, I sold my doggy daycare business, life was generally frenetic and I needed a port in the storm.
Now, I’ll be honest here, the very first yoga class I went to during the chaos of this time 14 years ago I left feeling, “I don’t have time for this – I really have too much to do.” But, I stuck with it and 2 years after that I looked back and realized that yoga was exactly what I needed. My yoga mat gave me a quiet place to surrender, destress, and figure out who I was at my core. My practice taught me about forgiveness and encouragement so that I could steadily move forward with much more grace and ease. It was a place to figure out what my values were and who I held dear to my heart. I’d like to add that yoga isn’t about getting better at poses or touching your toes – when I started I wasn’t even close – it’s about finding yourself, opening your heart, and getting better at living.
Now, many years later, the practice continues to give me what I need, and it’s with an incredible amount of joy and gratitude that I get to pay it forward as a teacher and owner of Simply Yoga. Within that, I encourage people to be patient with themselves, to look inside and find their power, to heal and gain awareness as a human being…and I wake up joyful every day knowing that it’s exactly what I’m meant to be doing right now.
Q: Who do you think benefits most from yoga?
EVERYONE. In fact, in my practice I see:
- Teens who learn focus and coping – I see them learn to take a deep breath or two and shift from worry to feeling confident that things will be ok.
- 20s and 30s who find yoga to be a great augment to their fitness routines and a necessary balance; especially those who lean towards more hard core workouts and/or running.
- 40s and 50s who discover stress reduction, stretching, joint health, strengthening and toning.
- 60s and 70s who simply feel better every day. In fact, I have a regular client who is 78 and doesn’t go a week without it. He says his life is better because of it and just started at the age of 75!
Age aside, I’ve also had clients whose doctor advised them to try yoga before surgery. Proudly, they say it has changed their life and never went through with the surgery! And, perhaps surprisingly, 30-40% of my clients are men – some professional athletes and some regular guys who are at a desk or on a plane all week long. Their physique is often incredibly tight, and it’s those male clients that are the most surprised at how much they love it! Finally, in terms of complimentary sports, runners and fast-action sports athletes tend to have hamstrings like steel cables if they don’t stretch on a regular basis. As a result, they often see tremendous benefits from yoga!
Q: There are so many types of yoga (Vinyasa, Hatha, Ashtanga, etc.), how does someone choose which one to practice?
Yes, there are many different types of yoga (you can read about some of them here) which differ by pace, strength levels, meditation-focus, etc. So it’s all about what you may need at different points in your life.
In fact, I used to do more power and Ashtanga yoga, but I now find that I like the slower Hatha practice in my life. There’s a style and a class for everyone – it’s about finding what’s right for you at each point of your life and finding the right teacher that you connect with. If you don’t like your teacher, I encourage you to keep trying because there’s someone out there for you that you will resonate with and hold your attention.
In terms of places to practice, there are also studios everywhere now too – lucky us! – so find a month that may have a slower pace for you and try different studios and styles and evaluate where you feel the most benefit. You’ll find that there are so many variables between them outside of a convenient distance from your home or work: temperature, music, verbal instruction, pace of postures, and time of day. Private, 1:1 sessions are also a wonderful option for people who prefer their own, private setting with customized, guided instruction – that’s what I offer through my company, Simply Yoga. As I said before, I feel confident that there’s a class and a setting out there for everyone!
Q: Is there an ideal time of day, or number of days a week that someone should practice to see the greatest impact on their mind and/or body?
Whether you go once a day, once a week, or once a month, the benefits are amazing because age and life both tighten us and anything we can do to open us back up – mind and body – can only make life better.
In an app, a teacher can’t watch your alignment, but it’s super convenient for your schedule and lot of options to try. With a class, it can help keep you more accountable, learn to stay in your own lane, learn to be unfazed by what people are doing around you, and keeping in your own space.
Q: Getting outfitted: Do you have a favorite type or brand of yoga mat? What gear do you think people should have when starting a practice at home?
You can spend $10 or $100. You just want to be sure that your mat isn’t slippery and has enough grip to it. And, if you’re just starting out, a mat gets it done – you don’t need all those extra accessories like blocks, straps or blankets. The bottom line is to be comfortable – there’s nothing worse than tugging at your yoga pants in class!
Q: What mistake do you think people most commonly make in their practice?
I think any mistakes made are more about mindset and misconception; “If I can’t touch my toes, I’m bad at yoga.” The truth is, nobody is bad at yoga. No one is supposed to look the same. Your visualization in your mind isn’t necessarily what’s happening in your body. The wonderful truth is EVERYONE can benefit from yoga!
Q: How do you stay motivated in your practice?
I like to mix it up: the pace, the heat, the teacher. And, when I’m out and about in my day I find a way to weave in a pose here and there: while filling up my gas tank I take a forward fold, sitting at a traffic light I take 3 deep breaths, stuck in a traffic jam I may take an easy twist in my seat, and finally, in line at the grocery store I’ll take a standing side-stretch. That one has an incremental benefit of totally embarrassing my teenage son when he’s with me as well so I get a little amusement AND increased flexibility. Win-win. 😉
Q: I know you’re a big fan of inspirational quotes and mantras to begin or end a practice. Do you have any favorite sources for those?
Q: Finally, is there anything else you think people should know who have never practiced yoga before but are now convinced it’s time to start?
Please be patient with yourself (you may be surprised at how many people drop F-bombs on the yoga mat!) Everybody starts at the beginning just as I did. And, yoga does not have to be so serious – I mean, there’s goat yoga and naked yoga! Just let go. The world is so noisy and frenetic; the mat is a place to unplug from it all and find a little peace and quiet.
If you live in the Atlanta area and would be interested in private yoga instruction from Tracey, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.