May 27, 2011

From Sorority Girl to Freelance Yogini: How California’s Been Good to Me

In 2007, I was working in an entry-level position at a Midwest-based insurance brokerage in a suburb of St. Louis. I had spent the past five years there, where I attended college, played varsity soccer, and was a member of a sorority. You could often find me wearing Polo or pearls, and when I did dress comfortably I opted for mid-length soccer shorts and an old t-shirt. I drove a Ford Explorer Sport Trac; yes, the truck. I drank Budweiser or, when I was really getting crazy, did shots of Jaeger or Southern Comfort. My life was far from perfect, but my family was very comfortable with the role I was playing. They knew I had it in me to do much worse …

Then, that summer, I decided to go ahead and do much worse. I announced I’d be moving to LA.

California.The land of fruits and nuts. My parents had seen it happen before. Some of their cousins had moved to California, never to come back, ultimately changing careers from “lawyer” to something like “alternative retreat leader.” When they came to family reunions, they recommended sun salutations as a good stretch prior to running. My sisters and I would lift our arms up, saying with a Mr. Miyagi accent, “Sun Salutation,” giggling intensely at crazy Uncle Bob.

When I announced my move out West, my parents could not have been more supportive. Oh no wait, that is someone else’s story. I mean to say my parents could not have been more resistant to the idea. They reeled in horror when I sold my beautiful, leather-seated, gas-guzzling truck for a Nissan subcompact with a hatchback and, packing it full of the most basic belongings, drove it to the coast. They may or may not have lied about my slew of various professions when their friends asked what I was doing in LA.

One Thanksgiving, when I came home with a streak of blue hair, a new piercing and a yoga mat, I think they were trying to convince themselves it was a phase. If they ever worried I’d run off with a group of mystics to the desert for a weekend of cleansing, chanting and exploring energy vortices, well, they were right. I did that last September. They saw this “phase” was here to stay.

Finally, about three years after I’d moved to California, my parents came for a visit. I was getting married – and wearing my mother’s wedding dress at the ceremony – so their fears were slightly quelled. They got to see me in my element, here in Manhattan Beach, smiling at my yoga friends, running the desk at my neighborhood studio, spending my days writing and consulting with clients. They saw that my home was clean, my bills were paid, my fiance and I were happy and stable. No, I wasn’t wearing polo and pearls, but my midriff was covered, and that was a start.

During that trip, my mother and I went for a walk along the beach. At this point, I had quit any semblance of regular employment and was freelancing full-time. I was lululemon clad, skinnier than I’d been in 10 years, as blond as a toe-headed baby, and permanently smiling. I asked her, “What does Dad say when people ask what I do?”

“He tells them you’re a writer. I think that’s as far as it gets,” she said. She then went on, “You know, when we tell people you are here in LA, they are never surprised to hear that about you. They would be surprised, though, to see what a positive member of your community you are.”

It was one of my proudest moments. As I stood there, wearing necklaces of an aum symbol and en elephant, talking about the eight petals and their influence on my life, recommending Iyengar reading and mentally reminding myself to grab my mala beads for a Lakshmi chant that evening, I realized I had become the complete stereotype they were so afraid I would eventually embody. But the real surprise was, in the end, they were proud of me for it.

Whenever I travel to the Midwest, I know I carry an air of, “I’m a sober vegetarian from California. Oh, yes, that is a new tattoo,” with me. I wonder if my nieces will Mr. Miyagi my voice some day, if my siblings will attempt to “explain” me to their children at family reunions. I can’t help but laugh. I’ve embodied every possible stereotype that awaited me in this great state (except breast implants, but, hey, I don’t live in Hollywood). Yes, I do sit around a room – definitely not at work – talking about the emotional roots of common illnesses, or how disease can be treated with acupuncture and vibration. No, I don’t fully fund my 401k each year – shhh – and I do spend some of that money on workshops exploring my chakras. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t eat meat. I recycle when possible and unplug chargers when they’re not in use. I’m considering buying a Prius.

I am the stereotype yogi. And, according to my mother, I am a positive member of my community.

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