Admission: I thought yoga wasn’t for me. I was always more into running or boxing, and couldn’t “get” yoga. Why are we bending like this? Downward huh? I just couldn’t understand it. That is, until recently.
I don’t think it was coincidence that the week I took my first yoga class in years was also the week that life coach and spiritual speaker Marie Forleo’s interview with Colleen Saidman Yee hit my inbox. Mind. Blown. I was instantly intrigued with the gorgeous, serene, highly-sought-after, bad-ass “First Lady of Yoga” and knew that whatever she had that made her so fearless, vibrant, and lit from within was something I truly needed.
Coincidence #2: I was taking a trip to Long Island with my good friend Susan, and was googling “things to do” that weekend, and bam! Colleen Sandman Yee was going to be doing a book signing for her first book, “Yoga For Life.”
The signing was held at designer Donna Karan’s Urban Zen store in Sag Harbor, and we also got to meet the legendary fashionista who changed the way women dress. Bonus!
Colleen’s book chronicles the inspiring and dramatic story of her life – her struggle to be perfect, her rise to fame as an international fashion model gracing the covers of Bazaar, New York and Cosmopolitan, her heroin habit, an accident that left her with debilitating epileptic seizures, her work with Mother Teresa, the story behind the headline-making “scandal” of how she fell in love with her now-husband, world-renowned yoga instructor Rodney Yee, and how yoga saved her life.
Just a little more street cred for you if you’re not familiar with Colleen: The globally-esteemed yoga instructor’s studio, Yoga Shanti, in Sag Harbor is filled mat to mat with devotees. With Donna Karan, and her husband Rodney, Colleen created and runs the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program, which is utilized in healthcare facilities around the country.
Why share her story and her yoga sequences? Colleen says, “Yoga gives us tools to overcome the obstacles that exist between us and freedom, joy, and gratitude.” In her book, Colleen shares the yoga sequences that address issues of fear, trauma, addiction, to confidence, forgiveness and love.
I read her book cover to cover. I recommend you do it too. Here’s my interview with my new inspiration:
Q. The book is honest. You talk about how important that was to becoming who you are today. Why do you think it’s so important to be honest in life? Can we be too honest? Can a person hold back some of their self, such as their true age, and still be true to their self?
A. Those are great questions. Someone once asked the Dalai Lama what his religion was, and he answered, “Kindness.” I love that. There are times that you may think you need to be honest, but if your motivation isn’t kindness, then something else is going on. For instance, if a friend appears in her wedding dress on her wedding day, and you think it’s ugly, there’s no point in telling her that—what you see isn’t necessarily the truth; it’s simply your perception. But if you catch her fiancé in the bathroom with one of her bridesmaids, well, this is a tough truth that she should probably know before she walks down the aisle. It takes a lot of self-reflection to know when your “truth” about someone else may cause unnecessary pain, and when it’s necessary.
As for yourself, what holds you back from being truthful? Are you lying to yourself in order to be seen in a better light? Why? This is where yoga comes in. Through postures, breath work, and meditation, you stop running long enough to get to know yourself. Internal searching, mindfulness, and intimacy with yourself make you realize cause and effect. The internal and external damage caused by even a single lie is too high a price to pay.
There are so many different ways of being dishonest. One way is by taking on a false identity. We put on the bully, or the pretty dumb girl, or the comedian. The underlying reason for this is that we’re afraid of the power of our authenticity, and we don’t think that we’re enough. We don’t think that we’re valid in our raw, real state, and so we cover up our beautiful essence. What also gets buried is our potential.
Unfortunately, in our society, a woman may think she has to lie about her age because, let’s face it, women are put into boxes that men aren’t. When we pass a certain age, we can be discriminated against—professionally, socially, or sexually—so we may feel that telling the truth is disadvantageous. I lied about my age for many years when I was a model, and I have to say, even though I felt I had to do it to get jobs, it always felt bad.
When something I’ve said or done isn’t honest, I can sense a gnawing feeling internally. Lying can literally eat you up. Eventually, I came to see that it wasn’t worth it for me to lie about my age anymore. It’s feeding society’s notion, and telling myself that there’s shame in aging. It’s liberating to be proud of my 56 years at this point. Am I not hired for certain jobs because I’m forthright about my age? Probably. But it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
In the past, my view of myself was a reflection of my perception of other people’s views and judgments about me. I would dress a certain way, take certain classes, cut my hair in a certain way, keep my mouth shut, and do whatever I could not to have to reveal who I really was. I‘ve gained some knowledge and enough strength since then to not place so much stock in what others think about me. As a mother, it was important for me to show my girls that I can be authentically and unapologetically me. Kids know when you are not being honest, and they’ll model you.
I can’t say that I no longer care what people think, but I care much less. Yoga has revealed to me who I really am, and helped me to fall in love with that person. I’ve done the work on my mat of digging through a lot of my coverings, and realized that buried underneath the shame and unworthiness was a gem that had been dimmed. Daily, I still step on the mat and try to be present to what’s revealed. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real, and it’s enough.
That’s why I was able to write Yoga for Life at this stage of my life. Not being honest is alienating. Humans are finely tuned instruments and can sense when something is not truthful, and they unconsciously close down. The person who isn’t being honest fears they’ll be found out. It’s a vicious cycle.
When you look into someone’s eyes and you know that they’re speaking the truth, it’s very powerful. You may tear up, get goosebumps, or just feel an overwhelming sense of relief. But there’s a connection.
I didn’t know how my book would be received, but if I was going to go through the intense process of writing, I had to be honest—for my own conscience and well-being. The result has been an overwhelming sense of connection with readers—women and men around the world. I’ve gotten hundreds of beautiful letters from people saying how much my honesty touched and inspired them to step out of the shame cycle, speak their truth, and make honest changes in their life. Many people said that they sat down, read the book in one sitting, and felt like they were having an honest talk with a close friend, where they delved into the well of human emotions. As I sit here, post-publication, I’m happy that I had the courage to be truthful. I feel so much love, understanding, compassion, and unity with so many people that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
Q. Of all the tough times you outlined, the seizure you had on the train and the ones that followed really stood out to me. How did you find the strength to step away from fear of the seizures and accept them and have peace with them?
A. I didn’t have a choice, really. If you don’t want to be miserable and angry, you have to accept what you can’t change. I tried everything to get rid of my seizures. At some point, I had to realize that they were part of me, and, also, that they weren’t the totality of me. I’m a person with epilepsy, but I am not only an epileptic. There’s so much beauty in my life. I could have chosen self-pity and fear, but on most days, I choose to be grateful and see what’s possible. I have the added bonus in knowing that on any given day I could have a seizure at a very unfortunate time and place, and my life could end. When you know life is such a precious gift, and realize that it’s temporary, you value it even more. I’m not saying to repress feelings. If you’re sad, be sad. If you are angry, feel it. If you’re frustrated, stay with it. If you’re scared, dig into it. The problem is that we get stuck in these emotions and end up shutting down. When we shut down, our world becomes very small. I believe that each of us comes into life with a unique fingerprint; only we can do what we were put here to do, and we owe it to the world to become the unique person we are, and contribute all that we can.
Q. With all of the tough times you experienced—the seizure on the train, the divorce, even gashing your head during that 8am yoga class—how did you find the strength to keep on going? What was the key? And what would you tell other women who are allowing life’s downs to define their actions?
A. There is an “up” around the corner. Keep breathing. Find something or someone to love. Get into nature. Don’t shut yourself off. Connection is incredibly important. Everyone experiences some form of alienation and separation. Know that you’re not alone. Breathe.
Q. What do you hope to impart to women, of all ages, with this book?
A. Know, trust, and embrace the fact that “you are enough.” “Know You’re Enough” is the title of a song by the musician Jason Isbell that really struck me. You are enough. We spend so much energy covering up, or running away from, our beauty and potential that sometimes we don’t even believe that it’s right here underneath all the lies that we’re telling ourselves. This cycle is exhausting. It’s a waste of energy. You’re enough. You don’t have to pretend. You’re enough. Do I sound like a broken record?
Q. Why write the book now?
A. Partly because my mother passed away several years ago. She was an intensely proud person, and my honesty about some of the more challenging times in my life would have caused her a lot of pain. This goes back to my point about kindness. I was nervous about what my father would think when he finally read the book. He read it in one night, and the next morning, with tears in his eyes, he handed me this note: “Honey. Your book is very good. I wish your mother could read it. You brought her back to me in these pages. You were a wild child but have grown into one of the sweetest, most caring adults I know. You have made me very proud. I love you babe. Dad.”
Also, subconsciously, I was probably craving a conversation and connection with others who have had similar experiences and feelings that I’ve been through. I was able to write it now because I’ve gained courage over the course of my life, and now realize how exhausting holding up a pretense is. And, honestly, I can’t sit here and tell you that I don’t care what people think about the book. But I care far less than I would have ten years ago. I went on Amazon last night and looked at the reviews. Most of them are 5 stars, but one person gave me 2 stars. It still hit me in the gut, but not as hard as it would have a decade ago.