Day 40: Autobiography of a YOGA DORK

Author: thedancingj /

"My world's on fire! How 'bout yours?
That's the way I like it, and I'll never get bored."
- "All Star" by Smash Mouth

Heather (aka TheMissus) pointed out yesterday that we crazy masterminds blog administrators have never properly introduced ourselves. Fair point! I'd rather talk about yoga than myself, but today I will talk about myself. And yoga.

So.... Hi!  My name's Juliana, and I used to be a ballet dancer.  (Hence the name.  When I first picked this name, for a ballet forum a million years ago, I really just wanted to be "J" or "the J," which was what my friends called me. But those were too short.  Ta da - "the Dancing J".)   I started ballet when I was 7 and kept it up all the way through college. I apprenticed with Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre in Cambridge, MA during my last year of college and then spent a year with them dancing full-time after I finished school, during the 2006-2007 season.

Ballet dancers love cross training, and I dabbled in pretty much every yoga style I could find. A friend brought me to my first Bikram class during the summer of 2004, at a tiny studio in the Pacific Northwest, and then another friend brought me to Bikram Yoga Boston the following winter. This particular yoga style really captured my attention. It was intense, it was cleansing, and I couldn't believe how good my body felt after class. I could never make it to yoga regularly when school was in session (college + ballet + yoga = not enough hours in the day), but I would go to Bikram a few times a week during summer breaks, and I always loved it.  I had the idea in my head that if I ever really "got into" yoga, this would be the style I would like to do, and I would do it every day.

In the summer of 2007, I decided that ballet as a career was Not For Me. I left the ballet company, started applying to grad schools, and walked into Bikram Yoga Boston to see if they had any work-study spots open. The owners hooked me up right away and started training me for the regional championships that were happening that fall. They were so good to me. Brad, Jill, and Tomo Koontz were my first yoga family, and I am forever grateful to them. I had an amazing time practicing at their studios, where I got to take strong dialogue-driven classes every day and I was welcomed into the most amazing community I'd ever experienced. (Seriously, you have no idea how nice yogis are to each other compared to ballerinas!! Sorry, bunheads, but you know it's true.) I also started making regular trips to study with the amazing Diane Ducharme, whose studio was a couple bus rides away on the outside of town, and she's been a great friend and huge influence on me. I can't say enough good things about her, either!

This all sounds unsettlingly linear, so here's the curveball: the college I went to was MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, world-renowned school for scientists and engineers. My undergraduate degree is a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering. (I'm pretty mathy.) While I was getting deep into my Bikram practice in Boston, I also applied to engineering schools and got accepted into my top choice Ph.D. program at UC Santa Barbara. Hooray?!  I think Brad was kind of heart-broken that I wasn't going to the Bikram teacher training! He'd already been trying to talk me into it for months. To tell you the truth, I was sad, too. (I think I already knew that he was right.) But grad school seemed like a good idea, so I packed up, hugged my teachers goodbye, and moved cross-country to work on semiconductor engineering.

But the Bikram bug had bitten me, and there's no going back from that! I tried to give grad school my best effort, and I lasted for a year and a half, but it became so obvious that my heart wasn't in it. Research work is a noble calling, but sitting in lab all night and reading research papers all day just isn't the life for me. Santa Barbara is less than 2 hours north from Los Angeles, so I could drive down on the weekend to take classes from Bikram, Raj, and Emmy, and that just pulled me deeper into the yoga! After months of going back and forth in my head, I had a moment of total clarity. It happened during a Sunday morning class in October, at 10am, during pranayama. I knew that Bikram yoga was the path for me. It was obvious, beyond the shadow of a doubt. And it wasn't necessarily easy, but it was simple and right.

Four months later, I am no longer in grad school. I did manage to finish a Master's degree, which was a great bonus. (I may never use it, but you never know.) I'm still in beautiful Santa Barbara, doing odd jobs and practicing at the Bikram studio here. I am going to teacher training in just a couple months, on April 18th in Vegas!  I feel so lucky.  I can't wait to see what happens next.

And that's the beginning of my story....

(Half moon in the foothills of Santa Barbara)

Juliana Olmstead is a Bikram yoga teacher at heart, and soon will have the certificate to prove it!  Writing about yoga is one of her favorite activities these days, besides practicing yoga, talking about yoga and studying the dialogue!  (YOGA DORK.)  She also cooks, travels, and watches bad sci-fi movies.  She thinks that watching the global Bikram yoga network grow stronger and stronger is the coolest part of this blogging stuff, by far!  She grew up in Northampton, MA, spent 6 years in Boston, and currently lives in Santa Barbara, CA.


The Missus said...

YAY! Story of a Yogi!!!

SillyJilly said...

yeay! I went to UCSB for my undergrad. Such a beautiful place! It is great that you followed your heart and realized your purpose in life, it is often very hard for people to do!

Bianca said...

Good on you for following your dreams and going to TT!! I'm dying to go. I wanted to go last year before I start my PhD next month, and just couldn't afford it. I keep coming up with all kinds of crazy schemes to go (taking a leave of absence etc.), but unfortunately it will probably be at the end of my PhD in three years. Boo.

bikramyogachick said...

J~ I'm one of your biggest fans and will never get sick of hearing your story. Oh, and I am SO bummed I didn't watch the rest of being human while I was at your house! :)

Lizzy said...

I LOVED your story. I studied ballet too, although probably not as serious as you. Thanks for sharing. And, I love your blog too ( :

Lady Yogaga said...

J, you're a yoga dork/math geek after my own heart... i took engineering level calc for fun my freshman year of college. <3

thedancingj said...

The Missus - Glad you liked it, since it was your idea!!

SillyJilly - Go Gauchos!! Yes, it is ridiculously pretty around here. :)

Bianca - I SO hear you on the "crazy schemes." I went through every crazy scheme in the book, from every angle, twice, before finally going for the Big Change. But if the PhD is something you want to do, then you need to do that to. Everything comes at the right time.

BYC - I bet you could find those episodes on YouTube....! :)

Lizzy - Thanks! The ballet background makes the yoga really interesting, doesn't it? I keep meaning to write a ballet vs. bikram post. I will get to it eventually!

Lady Yogaga - SWEET!! That sounds like me for SURE! I finished all the calc classes in my high school by the time I was 15 and then took wacky senior-level complex analysis classes at Smith to keep myself entertained. :-D (By the way, this is one of the things I love about yoga - Bikram yoga people are my PEOPLE!)

thedancingj said...

*Bianca - I meant "too", not "to." Ugh!

Anny said...

What a great story - it had so many unexpected twists! Good luck with the training :)

thedancingj said...

Hahaha... yep, that's me. "Unexpected twists." Truth is stranger than fiction. Thanks! :)

cirita said...

I loooove your story!!I am a BIG fan :) I hope you come down to San Diego to teach one day!!

KatieO said...

Ok, I can see that there are twists and turns, but there is a logical progression throughout, at least that I can see. And as the mother of this AMAZING human being, I do have some perspective. I may be surprised from time to time, but only for a moment. Then I step back and see the path that has led you to that moment, and the next one. While Bikram isn't my path, I can sure see how right it is for you. You have added the dimension of "heart" to your intellectual and physical pursuits. (you were a tad precocious as a teenage math geek)

kimberly said...

I think yoga is a great activity, i really love to practice exercise, i think this activity is the best option to keep our total welfare and it is very fun. When we exercise frequently we can notice a change not only in our shape but in our mood too. Actually we can improve our sexual performance. In some cases when the erectil dysfunction present like a problem to buy viagra is a great alternative, how ever you must to combine with exercises and a good food.

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