Morning coffee at one of our favorite neighbors, Angel Falls!

Morning coffee at one of our favorite neighbors, Angel Falls!

I started practicing yoga in 2014 while training for the Cleveland Marathon. I was 27 years old and frustrated in many ways with where I was in life. Not that I wasn’t doing well—I had been a nurse for 5 years, I lived with my sister in an apartment I loved in Highland Square, and I was physically in better shape than I had been since high school. However, on the inside, I was unsure of where I was going. I had just gone through a difficult breakup, I felt stagnant in my career, and the weight of my negative outlook seemed to be taking over. Shortly after my breakup, I remember thinking—and even saying out loud to my mom—that I felt like a door to my heart was closing and that it might never completely reopen.

 Post-marathon, 2014

Post-marathon, 2014

                It’s an understatement to say that I needed a shift. I decided to run a marathon—it seemed like the perfect way to make something happen. I started to read training books that motivated me. My job changed at work, and I went from a nurse on the same busy floor to an RN-coordinator in the hospital-wide Palliative Care consult service. I remember reading a quote that played over and over in my mind during this time “I had to decide who I really was and who I really wasn’t; I was so sick of who I was becoming.”

                One day, a girl who attended my Crossfit gym—who was also a yoga teacher and a member of a running club I joined a few times—invited me to a Yoga for Runners workshop she was teaching at Release Yoga in Green. The workshop was $5 and it seemed like a no-brainer to attend—after all, I’d owned an unused yoga mat for the past seven or so years. I remember wearing socks into the class and realizing with embarrassment that I was the only one wearing them. I wasn’t expecting to like the class, but I knew my hamstrings needed help so I stuck with it. Surprisingly, when I left I felt really, really good. A small seed had been planted.

                At this time, I was running long training runs on the weekends and attending Crossfit and Pure Barre classes during the week. Slowly, I started to choose yoga classes over my other activities. I noticed that when I ran, it was easier to breathe. I felt less stressed when I got fatigued. The first time I cried in class, I was stunned. The instructor told us at the end of class to give ourselves a huge hug—“Because you deserve it, because you love yourself.” I felt overcome with emotion. This continued to happen—unexpected tears after my first twenty-mile run, tears on my mat, tears when I thought about how positive and accepting my yoga teachers were. I felt that door over my heart start to open.

                Because this is a blog, and not a novel, I’ll skip ahead a bit! About two weeks after completing my first (and as of now, only!) full marathon, my sister and I were in a car accident while driving home from California and I broke my hand. This put my yoga practice on hold for awhile but for the first time ever, I found that I couldn’t wait to get back to it. As soon as my cast came off, I looked for ways to resume my practice—folding up a towel under my left hand or modifying the classes. Yoga was now a part of my life that I didn’t want to let go.

                Two years after first stepping on my mat, I decided to apply for Release’s teacher training program. This was scary, but it also felt like such a natural step. I loved teacher training and the connections I made with my classmates (many of whom are now teachers at Yoga Squared!). Teaching was so intimidating, but it felt good. Working with patients in my capacity as a palliative care nurse changed my outlook completely, and I started to really realize how short life can be, and how important it is to strive for happiness and fulfillment even when change had always pushed me way out of my comfort zone.

 Teacher Training grad party, 2016

Teacher Training grad party, 2016

                So much had changed in those two years since I’d found yoga. I was in a relationship again, I was training to be a yoga teacher, had become certified in Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing. My life had evolved, but something told me that I had another shift coming. I remember my boyfriend at the time asking me what I planned to do with my teacher training once it was complete. My response was, well, teach yoga! But the more we talked, the more I realized that it might be possible to turn yoga into a career. I’d felt such a dramatic change in myself as a direct result of the practice, and the thought of helping to guide others in a more real way to see the possibilities in life made me feel at peace.

                I was afraid to tell anyone that I was thinking of opening a yoga studio. I had no experience in business and in so many ways it was a spur of the moment decision. I feared negative feedback, of being told I was crazy for even thinking that owning a studio was something I could do so early in my career as a yoga teacher. However, I quickly realized that there was far, far more positive energy out there than I thought.

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                The first place I looked at was 764 W. Market Street, Suite B…that’s right, the current location of Yoga Squared. When I saw the location, I knew it was perfect…on the outside. When my sister and I walked inside, we were a little nervous. The space was divided awkwardly into cubicles and was painted an ugly shade of light green (my family might have thought I was crazy for choosing mint as a major YS color!) and there were numerous other issues. However, the realtor I met with, Susan, told me right away that she could see my vision and that she thought it was possible. The building manager, Naeno, is a local DJ who has collaborated with YS on multiple events—he could see it too.

                Of course, the process wasn’t THAT easy, but almost! There were some stressful moments as I attempted to negotiate a lease agreement (which I ended up signing and over-nighting from Los Angeles while on a “last-hurrah” vacation with my best friends!), changed from full to part time at work for the first time in almost 8 years, and started to reach out to teachers. You might not think this about me, but I’ve always considered myself an introvert who needs a lot of alone time. I suddenly found myself working seven days a week, cold-calling and emailing teachers and other professionals, and learning about insurance, business plans, loans…it was overwhelming at times.

 

 Redwoods, 2014

Redwoods, 2014

                However, things lined up in ways that I never could have expected. I’d heard about synchronicity, being supported by the universe…but I’d never experienced this phenomenon first hand until I started the real work of opening the studio. I saw the schedule materialize with amazing teachers—some friends, and some soon-to-be friends. My parents helped me in ways that I can’t put into words. One of my favorite yoga teachers, Sarah Clark, designed the YS logo and website and helped me clarify my vision of what the studio should look like in order to feel the way I wanted it to feel. My best friend Allison Kirby helped me build shelving, design the bathroom, and her dad put up the woodgrain wallpaper behind the desk (which he had laying around his house, just waiting for an occasion to use it!) and painted the lobby wall the perfect mint green—as a housewarming gift to me and the studio. And my electrician uncle worked with me on heating and lighting—not once, but twice!

It seemed like every time I needed help, it was there. I met Kelly, a business mentor I was connected with through the Women’s Network, an area agency dedicated to supporting women in business. Kelly and I clicked right away, and she was a neutral person for me to speak to about my anxieties and fears. Over time, Kelly and I became close friends, and now she’s a member at Yoga Squared! Even the lawyer I met with to reassure me about my lease agreement has been to multiple workshops at the studio. Recently, I had to reach out to my insurance agent to renew my policy, which brought me back to my communications with him as I was planning to open—he was incredibly supportive and made things so easy for me, and even stopped by the studio after it opened just to give his well wishes. It sounds crazy, but every time I had to tackle a difficult task, I met someone who somehow made it easy. After years of perceiving life to be difficult, unfair, not seeing the meaning or reason…I was surrounded by people who every single day reaffirmed the idea that we are all connected by universal support.

 Neighborhood shapes

Neighborhood shapes

And then, the day came. Monday, December 5th, 2016. I’d worked a 16-hour shift at the hospital the day before, and had to be up bright and early to teach my first class at the studio at 5:30am. I remember arriving at the studio that morning. I was terrified. I had been told not to worry if no one showed up to classes in the beginning, and I prepared myself for the worst. But then, a few friendly faces arrived. My mom and my siblings. The sisters of my best friend who lives in Pennsylvania. I started to relax.

After that, we were off! I attended my first class at Yoga Squared at 9am that day, taught by Kevin James Karas. My parents were there, and he introduced them to the room in such a warm way. The class was packed, and after my practice I felt so calm and reassured. Yes, it was a stressful first week. A few long-time area teachers I really respected and admired showed up to take my classes during those first few days of business. As touched as I was that they were supporting me, there was a part of me that didn’t feel I deserved it. Which brings me to my biggest challenge, and my real yogi transformation… learning to not only believe in the others around me, in their help, in their support, in their belief in me. Learning to believe in, support, and love myself.

So much has changed in the year since that first day in the studio. Some of the changes haven’t been easy, but they’ve always felt exactly right (i.e., tearing down a major wall three months after the studio opened!). As I gained confidence in myself as a yoga teacher, a business owner, and even as a yoga student, I started to pay more attention to what I felt and what I wanted in my life. Most of you know that Katelyn and I met only recently—on December 6th, 2016, to be exact. Over the next few months, we became friends. The incompatible relationship I was in had been drifting apart and ultimately ended, which was another lesson in overcoming fear. Katelyn and I started dating soon after.

 Kate knocking down the wall, March 2017

Kate knocking down the wall, March 2017

So, when I say that a lot changed in this past year, a LOT changed. Some of the changes I expected—longer hours, less “free” time, but an overall more fulfilling life. Others took me completely by surprise. My relationship with Katelyn is the most obvious, and has been impactful to my life—and my transformation as a yogi—on every level. She started out as a student of mine, signing up for my Beginners’ Series in January. If you were in the workshop—or you know Kate—you know that she jumped in right away and helped me plan unique things for us to discuss. She was currently in teacher training, and we talked a lot about our respective yoga journeys. She was one of the first yogi transformers. We got certified in Reiki 1. She graduated from her TT program and started teaching at the studio in February. She helped tear down the wall in March, which at that time felt symbolic to a lot of things that were going on in both of our personal lives.

 Partnership + Love

Partnership + Love

It’s definitely the transformation this year—and in my life—that brings me the most happiness. Not that it’s easy to work day in, day out alongside your partner. Our relationship was pretty new when we started to work together, and there were—and are—ups and downs. There are those days when we can’t get away from our phones or out from under the weight of our daily tasks. When most “days off” are punctuated by trips to the studio…or shopping for the studio…or fielding texts and phone calls about the studio.

But despite the difficulties, we have the most fun life ever! She teaches me yoga, I teach her yoga. I “borrow” her songs, she tells me which one of mine she’s tired of hearing. The fact that she’s my student and my teacher holds me accountable in my own practice in a way that I didn’t expect.

Months have passed, and every day I feel more thankful for the gift of transformation. What I’ve noticed above all else is that most of these changes can’t be seen from the outside. When I first started practicing yoga, I was physically in the best shape of my life. Mentally, not so much. It’s taken years of both dedication and failure to arrive in the space I’m in now, and the absolute best thing is, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in SO many ways and I know I still have an infinite amount of lessons to learn! When I look to 2018—and Year 2 of Yoga Squared—I can say a few things that give me immense confidence and happiness. I’m in a happy, stable relationship with someone I can spend 24 hours a day with—someone who has brought YS into the light as far as marketing, creativity, and true partnership is concerned. My mom and my sister have both completed yoga teacher training and now teach at the studio. I respect and admire every teacher at YS from the bottom of my heart. And the students at YS have opened my eyes in a real, real way.

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My dream when I first thought of opening a yoga studio in Highland Square was to bring a diverse group of students and teachers together and create an inclusive space where all feel welcome. Sometimes I look around and realize with amazement that my dream came true. I also hoped to see people walking around the Square with yoga mats—I’ll never forget the first time my best friend texted me to say “OMG I JUST SAW SOMEONE WALKING DOWN MARKET STREET WITH A YOGA MAT! Your dream is coming true!” This was probably the first week that the studio opened. That text brought me to tears.

 Family @ Mustard Seed after Vinyl + Vinyasa: Pink Floyd

Family @ Mustard Seed after Vinyl + Vinyasa: Pink Floyd

I’ve had so many of those moments since last December 5th. Unforgettable moments in time in which I truly felt every minute of my life come together for exactly my purpose on earth. When I think about how lucky I am I forget about all the 4:30am wakeup calls (hundreds of them 😉) and anxieties over The Wall, myself as a yoga teacher, and my personal life. I get to say that I teach alongside my mom, my sister, my girlfriend, and some of the people I respect and love most in the world. I get to teach my whole immediate family the practice of yoga. I am greeted every day by students who have become close friends.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to read my story, and to all of you for being vital people in my life.

Namaste!

Nicole

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