In the fall of 2014, I decided to explore a deep longing and commit to a Yoga Teacher Training program. I knew, without a doubt, without ever entering the space or meeting these people, that Yoga on High was the real deal and the obvious choice for my certification.
On the very first night of a new stage of my life, I walked into a room of over sixty-five strangers and selected a name tag. I stood in line to have my picture taken. A spunky and beautiful blonde stood behind a Polaroid camera and said, "What's up, mamacita?"
She had an obviously buoyant heart, a bright shining smile and a great sense of humor. She made me feel welcome and loved immediately.
This woman, Michele Vinbury, became my mentor during nine months of teacher training, and immediately became my boss as I transitioned into a full time role at the studio that simply transformed my life.
In two years, I have learned so many life lessons, along with an incredible amount about myself and my tendencies. I have learned that the overarching answer and conclusion to any situation is always love.
No matter what, the answer, the choice, is always love, is always compassion and comradery.
And with this, I present an interview to learn more about this courageous woman who believed in me and allows me to take chances, to try.
Michele's belief gave me the confidence to walk away from a corporate position to the life of my truest truth: to be a teacher, student, and entrepreneur doing work that I genuinely love to be doing in the present moment.
At the end of the day, I am grateful and appreciative and wholeheartedly overwhelmed at the love and belief that has been placed in me. It has absolutely transformed my life.
Without further ado, here's more Michele:
KS: HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU FIRST TRIED YOGA? WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION?
MV: I was 22 when I did yoga for the first time. It was a Rodney Yee DVD. I was at a really low point in my life, one of the lowest, and I was open to trying new things.
My mother had practiced yoga when I was growing up and I had thought at that time: I will never do that!!! Little did I know where life would lead me. :)
KS: WHY WERE YOU ORIGINALLY SO INTO BECOMING A YOGA TEACHER?
MV: I found myself at a jumping off point in my life. I had applied to graduate school at OSU for social work and been accepted. The Spring before I was set to begin, a close family member attempted suicide.
I flew out to be with them and then they ended up moving to Columbus to live with us for a few months. It was a very emotionally difficult time and after they moved out, I was drained.
The thought of counseling people had become completely unappealing. I deferred school and to make a long story short, I decided to do Yoga Teacher Training. I remember telling my husband that I’d signed up and he said, “It’s about time!”
Originally, I didn’t think I would teach in a studio; my main interest was bringing the healing of yoga to populations deeply in need.
KS: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAS SHIFTED? WHAT IS YOUR DRIVE NOW FOR TEACHING? WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST PASSION/MISSION/DHARMA?
MV: Through teaching, I hope to share the idea of transformational self acceptance—radical authenticity.
My practice and teaching is an exploration of how can we honor, forgive, treasure, heal and love ourselves.
I know and see my students’ beauty and wholeness. In many ways my job is to create space for students to deeply feel their inherent, shimmering aliveness and then to touch into the amazing wonder, the mystery, beauty and awe of just that.
I’m also pretty committed to goofballery. Shenanigans.
I think play is a ninth limb of yoga. There is incredible freedom in play. Tremendous authenticity and a lack of self-consciousness in true play—just look at kids, they completely get it—the joy of being both lost and found ‘in the moment.’
Sum it up Vinny? Ok, my heartfelt desire is to live from the center of a wide open heart and interact with people as a messenger of love. Yup, a work in progress. :) :) :)
KS: WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR PRACTICE AND TEACHING GROWING/GOING?
MV: My personal practice has given me so many gifts. Yoga, meditation, they are abundantly generous. I have no idea where it will go. No idea where my teaching will go. Gotta follow my heart—it knows the way, it shows me every time. That’s the big adventure—surrendering to the wisdom of your heart.
I want to grow in health, strength and compassion.
I practice asana to enliven my senses, wake up my breath and work my body in such ways that I’m delivered into open-hearted, nectar dripping, ambrosial savasanas. I’ve found that pose attainment and striving tend to get in the way...cause really, it’s simple, I’m all about the savasana high. :)
KS: I KNOW YOU HAVE ALREADY DONE SO MANY AMAZING THINGS WITH THE YOGA ON HIGH FOUNDATION. CAN YOU SHARE WITH US ALL THAT YOU DO FOR THEM?
MV: Thanks for asking! The work of the Yoga on High Foundation is fundamental to who I am as a teacher. I primarily teach yoga and meditation to women who’ve experienced trauma—typically sexual or physical abuse of some form. I think this is my life’s work, my dharma.
You can check out our website to read about our programs.
Currently, I’m teaching at a women’s prison, to women vets, and at a local hospital trauma program. We teach to prostituted women, amputees and to children at a homeless shelter and support teaching in local high schools and other area prisons. Yoga on High Foundation also provides organic food, grown by our volunteers on Marcia’s farm, to a local food bank each growing season.
KS: ONE OF THE THINGS YOU'VE PROMOTED THAT I LOVE IS THE SPREAD OF KARMA YOGA, THE IDEA OF CONTAGIOUSLY GIVING TO OTHERS AND WATCHING THE RIPPLE EFFECTS. CAN YOU SPEAK MORE ABOUT WHY THIS IS SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?
MV: I was raised in a family that believes strongly in service, so the idea of giving back is foundational to me.
Also though, I’ve been strongly influenced by the fact that at times in my life when I thought that the light was darkest, even through times when I deliberately turned to the darkness, people helped me.
People always, always helped me. I feel that I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for their kindnesses and for the many blessings I have been given.
Karma Yoga is one of the ways that I offer my thanks out into the world.
Acts of kindness are so completely win-win. You feel great doing it, the person feels great receiving it.
At the end of the day, I think we’re all here to help each other, to show each other love. Karma yoga is this love in motion, yoga off the mat.
KS: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS?
MV: Ahhhhh. I could list pages here. I love poetry and short stories. I love non-fiction; books about social activism, Himalayan mountain climbing and arctic adventure books. For fun, I like spy novels and also Latin novels with elements of magical realism.
I tend toward non-fiction though. I find myself annoyed with novels that all-too-often end with everything tied up in a neat tidy (happy) bow.
I like complicated characters and stories where it can be a struggle to find an absolute easy division between right and wrong, good and bad.
I prefer the interest and relative discomfort of grey...I want the tension of bittersweet.
KS: I LOVE YOUR TASTE IN MUSIC. HAVE A FEW SONGS YOU ABSOLUTELY LOVE MORE THAN ANYTHING?
MV: Thanks Kelli! This is a most difficult question! I have really eclectic taste in music...there are just toooooo many!
KS: ANY ADVICE FOR NEW TO NEWER YOGA TEACHERS IN THE WORLD?
- Be yourself.
- Keep it simple.
- Remember: You cannot make everyone happy. You are not pizza! :p
- Have fun!!!!!
KS: WHAT, IN YOUR OPINION, MAKES A YOGA TEACHER SPARKLE, STAND OUT THE MOST AS A PROFESSIONAL? ANY TIPS FOR THOSE OF US STILL IN THE BEGINNING STAGES?
- Authenticity (which hopefully includes smiling)
- Willingness to be honest & vulnerable
- The ability to connect with students—to make the students feel seen and heard
- Love of yoga—if you love yoga you will continue to practice, continue to study and to learn. Your students will feel that depth and passion and they will be inspired.
- Direct and honest communication with employer and peers, no drama, no b.s.
KS: YOUR FAVORITE COLOR?
MV: Green, all shades. From dark, earthy, spring-mud greens to deep jewel toned greens to soft mossy greens and chalky sweet sage greens to gorgeous Caribbean blue-greens.
KS: YOUR FAVORITE HOBBIES BESIDES YOGA?
MV: Travel. No contest. Being with trees. Collecting sea shells. I’m taking a watercolor painting class this fall and I want to learn how to play the guitar, do future hobbies count?!? :)
KS: FAVORITE QUOTES OR MANTRAS?