This month’s OM cover star is Kate Lewis, a US-based yoga teacher in New Jersey. Here she talks about her yoga journey and what the ancient practice means to her. Words and photos: Wanda Bogacka-Plucinski.
What made you take your first yoga class?
In a span of about two years, I lost my mum, then my husband lost his mum, my grandmother died and even our cat. We also lost our home and my husband lost his business due to a flood. As you can imagine, this was a very dark and sad time of my life. I felt very alone, almost as if I had become un-tethered from this world; I found myself really lost.
This led me to really spiral into some self-destructive behaviours like drinking too much alcohol, overeating or eating nothing at all. I knew that if I didn’t make some changes things would get even worse. On a whim, I went to a hot yoga studio, took a class and was hooked from that day on.
My love and appreciation for my yoga practice quickly deepened in the years after I started.
Although I had a well-paying job, it was very stressful and unsatisfying. There had to be more out there for me, I thought. Because yoga had helped me so much, the urge to share that with others began to grow deeply inside of me. So, I began to consider enrolling on a yoga teacher training (YTT) programme. I quit my job and decided that I would do whatever it took to become a full-time yoga instructor.
To start, I became a work-study at the studio I practiced in. This was a great way to get to know more of the students and learn about how a yoga studio operates. I then graduated from my 200-hour YTT and began teaching full time. I went on to manage the studio for about two years before the pandemic hit.
During the pandemic, I started my yoga business completely by accident. It started with a friend of mine asking me to teach him yoga via FaceTime. I said ‘sure’ and figured this would be something we might do once or twice and that would be it. Two years later, he is still my student and since then I have expanded what I do to include several private students, small groups, and even big businesses. While it has become easier for us to meet in person again, I still work with several of my students virtually. This has been a game-changer because I’m not only able to work with my existing students, but with people all over the world!
How has yoga helped you grow and expand as a person?
Through my yoga practice, I have been able to heal through a great deal of the trauma that I have experienced in my life. I’ve developed a level of patience and compassion for myself that I never had before. I’m a chronic perfectionist, and I tend to give up on things if I don’t excel at them right away. With yoga, it was different.
In the beginning, the physical practice was so hard for me, but every time I was on the mat, I saw little changes in my strength and flexibility. This was so encouraging to me, and I began to look at my yoga practice as exactly what it was — quite simply, a practice. I didn’t look at my yoga practice as another skill to have to excel at. This was a huge relief and it helped me lean into my practice that much more.
I learned to have patience for myself and others, both on and off the mat, and bring myself into the present moment.
Has yoga helped with how you feel about yourself?
My yoga practice allows me to be more in tune with my body every day, which helps me create a deeper relationship with myself. While I was always active, I was never an athlete and I considered myself a bit clumsy. Through my yoga practice, I have developed both a mental and physical strength that I’ve never had before, and there are times that this truly puts me in awe of what my body is capable of.
On the opposite end of this, I have begun to observe my body and the ways it carries trauma, and this has given me the opportunity to truly listen. I’ve developed such a sense of compassion for myself, and this allows me to nurture myself and treat myself the way I would treat a loved one, rather than beating myself up or being harder on myself than I need to be.
Who do you admire or feel inspired by and why?
So many of my yoga students and specifically one particular student, Alice — she is 81 years old! Let me tell you, she is stronger both mentally and physically than a lot of 30-year olds that I know! She is beautiful inside and out, and is living proof that if we take care of ourselves, we can live long and fulfilling lives. Alice never misses a session, even when she is not feeling her best, she always gives it her all. She has taught me, if you want to live an extraordinary life you can, at any age. Don’t let society sway you. Decide for yourself and go after the life you want and deserve.
How do you practice yoga off the mat?
Yoga off the mat for me is about staying in a state of gratitude as much as possible. I have this practice where I won’t get out of bed in the morning until I can honestly name three things that I’m grateful for. Sometimes this can be really challenging, but I always notice a huge difference in my day when I do this versus when I don’t. I find that when I am in a state of gratitude, it’s a lot easier to show true kindness to myself and others.
What do you believe is your true calling in life?
To uplift, encourage, inspire and empower as many people as I can to believe that they can be the best versions of themselves by sharing my yoga, whether in group or private settings, as well as leading by example in my day-to-day life, off the mat.
We have all been so conditioned not to love ourselves, especially women. We look and find flaws in ourselves, put ourselves last and play small to make others feel better about themselves. So often I hear many of my female students being hard on themselves and downplaying their accomplishments. I know what this feels like so I strive to help them break those patterns, find self-love, wherever they are in their lives.
Is there a person in your life who hears and sees you for who you really are?
Definitely my husband. We’ve known each other since we were kids — I was 14 years old when I met him! We got together as a couple when I was 21 and we’ve essentially been together for our entire adult lives. He has seen me through so many ups and downs, and he knows me through and through. He loves me for who I am, flaws and all, and encourages me to be myself. He supports every aspect of my personal yoga practice and career, and I’m extremely grateful for him.
What things are you grateful for?
Oh, so, so much! I could honestly give you a huge list! But right now, I’ll simply say that I am truly grateful for this life that I have been given. I have been through a lot of dark times, but I am still here and have been given the opportunity to make every day count.
What feeds your soul?
Music! I wholeheartedly believe that it has the ability to transform our entire state of being, and I love feeling the emotion that these artists put into their songs. In addition to being a yoga instructor, I’m also a musician and so is my husband, so there is always music on in our home. I also thrive when I am outside. My favourite place to be is at the beach.
Can you tell us about your spiritual practice?
I am extremely passionate about supporting small business whenever possible. Last Christmas, for example, I made it a point to buy all of my presents from friends, local businesses, or from small businesses that I follow online. There is so much amazing art, food, and talent out there, and I definitely feel that I was able to find the coolest and most unique gifts by doing this.
Buying and supporting small businesses means I’m supporting my local community and that’s so important. Small businesses have heart, take true pride in what they do and there are real people behind them trying to do the best they can for their community. That’s something I always want to support and get behind.
How do you stay motivated?
One of my mentors talks about how we need to ‘choose our hard’ in life and that advice has really stuck with me. It’s hard to get up and do the things that we know we should be doing but don’t necessarily want to do. For me, the regret of looking back at what I should have done is much harder than the actual act of just going for it and doing it.
What would your ideal day look like?
An ideal day for me would be to wake up and snuggle with my dog, move my body in ways that feel good and enjoyable – like some outdoor yoga, spending time with my husband and perhaps my closest friends. Doing simple things together like cooking, listening to music, laughing and having meaningful conversations.
What would you say is your superpower?
Connecting others. I love bringing people together when I know that they could benefit from having one another in their lives, whether that’s personally or professionally. Before I got together with my husband, I went on a date with a great guy who just wasn’t great for me. But I introduced him to a friend of mine, and I’m glad to say they are happily married, with three beautiful children.
When you awake each day, what is your intention?
To be fully present. I am someone who struggles with focus, and it’s very easy for my mind to drift, even in moments and conversations that I am fully invested in. I work to stay in the moment so that I can truly enjoy my surroundings and those that I am spending time with.
What’s your favourite, most inspiring quote?
“It was when I stopped searching for home within others and lifted the foundations of home within myself, I found there were no roots more intimate than those between a mind and body that have decided to be whole.” — Rupi Kaur