I grew more as human during the holiday season of 2018 than I had the previous decade. For you to understand, you need some back-story.
I left gym management when we had kids. I continued teaching group fitness and yoga as I stayed home with our boys. When our baby, Kaleif, was about to turn one, I started an online wellness coaching biz. I was doing my best to help my family finically in between teaching classes while our boys were sleeping.
And I did.
I was a good coach. I AM a good coach. But I was getting burnt out. I missed working with people face-to-face.
“Remember, the kids are in school now. You don’t have to do something from home anymore,” Jacob would remind me. But shifting gears felt like failure….
After assisting in multiple graduating classes from our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Program at Keller Yoga, Shanti (my besti and studio owner) decided to start a 300-hour program.
In May 2018, Shanti threw this at me, “I know you’ve been talking about getting your 300-hour for years. I have people asking for a 300-hour program. Would you be interested in being a part of my first class? I would love your feedback and assistance in building the program and you could work off your hours.”
Commune with some of the most amazing yogis I know? Become a 500-hour teacher, after 15 years as a 200-hour instructor? And not pay for it?
School started in late June. By early July, I was deep into the Yoga Sutras. One of the main messages in this ancient text is, “It’s better to do your dharma imperfectly than someone else’s dharma perfectly.”
Dharma is your life’s purpose.
As I read poolside while my boys played, that message lingered in my heart.
Is it possible that being an online wellness coach isn’t my dharma? I’ve been spending so much energy trying to acquire clients, that I haven’t been teaching much yoga and I know that yoga is a part of my dharma: spreading it and teaching it…
I decided that during the rest of my 300-hour education I would commit to yoga, I would let go of my on-line business and would open my heart to more opportunities to teach everything I was studying. I would open my heart to living and breathing my dharma.
Believe it or not, it’s HARD to make a fulltime income only teaching in gyms and studios. You’ve gotta teach a shit-ton of classes or have multiple high-paying clients. I was brainstorming out the wazoo how to “get into” corporate yoga. It was my dream to find a couple large companies who valued wellness, willing to hire me to come in mid-day to teach yoga or meditation.
One day, a bit frustrated with lack of moving forward, Jacob did a job search for me.
“Here,” he said, pointing to a posting. “A Fulltime Wellness Coach. Right up your alley! It’s a temp gig, but it would really help us through the holidays. You should apply for it!”
I got it and I was PISSED!
“This is all your fault! I decided to let go of coaching to teach more yoga!” I yelled at Jacob. “What the fuck? Now I’m not going to be teaching yoga at all! I’m have to give up all my classes!”
“I know this isn’t exactly what you want to be doing. But you’ll be working with people face-to-face and it will really help us out right now. Could you please just look at it like a fitness challenge? It’s only going to be 10 weeks. You can do anything for 10 weeks,” Jacob reminded me. “For the past 10 years you’ve had the luxury of time. I think this might give you a new perspective and appreciation for what you’ve had. You’ll probably hate it and be so ready for it to be over that it will motivate you to get your ass in gear to figure out something else when it’s all over.”
I was a 3rd party sub-contractor as the On-Site Wellness Coach at a grocery store warehouse. The current coach was pregnant and about to go on maternity leave. I literally trained with her a couple hours the day before she went into labor. I was totally thrown in the deep end. Fortunately, I’m a strong swimmer with my mad people skills.
“You’re really going to have a hard time getting people to come into your office,” the other coach said while training me. “You’re working with a demographic that really isn’t into wellness. They aren’t necessarily looking to make changes, but it’s a benefit to the company if their workers are healthier. It reduces healthcare costs and such. So, it’s really your job to be the popular girl on campus. Walk around, talk to people and hopefully you can steer the conversation towards wellness.”
I was instructed by my bosses to simply walk around introducing myself and handing out a personal bio for all the staff to get to know me. I didn’t even know the computer software yet.
“Hi! I’m Aubrey. I’m filling in for Lisa, the wellness coach, while she’s on maternity leave,” I would say, handing them the bio. “I’ve been a yoga instructor and a fitness professional for the past 15 years. I’m really good at helping you feel better. So, if you’re ever stressed out or sore from your job, come by my office. I would really love to get to know you while I’m here.”
Later, on my first day alone, a man walked into my office really slow. “My supervisor sent me.”
“Ok, what’s up?”
“It’s my back. It’s been hurt a while and it’s just not getting better. I really don’t want them to send me home,” he said fighting back tears. “I can’t afford to lose this job.”
I could sense an equal mix of fear and pain radiating off and through him. “Do you ever stretch?” I asked.
He did this cross between a head shake and a shoulder shrug.
I took a deep breath, “Well, if you don’t bend you break.” I paused. “How much time do we have?”
“I’m supposed to be on the floor. He’s trying not to send me home. I have as much time as we need.”
“Perfect.” I looked him deep in the eyes and said, “First I’m going to teach you diaphragmatic breathing, because it helps the muscles relax and it helps you manage the pain. Next, we’ll do some stretches to give your back some relief. Sound good?”
When this man walked into my office there was a grimace on his face, struggling not to cry. Throughout our 20 minutes together, I watched his body and even his face relax. He melted in my presence. I went home that night feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment that I wasn’t expecting.
Wow, maybe I am going to be teaching yoga here, I thought as I drove home. It might not look like what I’m used to, but maybe this isn’t going to be so bad.
Early on my 2nd day a supervisor walked into my office, signed in and said, “I want to learn more about yoga. Will you teach me?”
WTH???? Really????? YES!!!!!!!!
“Absolutely,” smiling ear to ear. “What part do you want to learn exactly? The physical stuff or more meditation?”
“Both actually,” he replied. “But I’m on my break. I don’t have a lot of time.”
“Ok. How about we start with diaphragmatic breathing today, because it’s the foundation of everything? Tomorrow we can break down the Sun Salutation, which is the basic yoga flow that almost all classes include. Does that work?” I asked.
After we were done, I asked, “How do you feel?”
“Good. Have you ever breathed like that before?”
“No,” he said shaking his head.
I smiled. “See you tomorrow?”
Later that day the Safety Manager walked into my office. “You have something to measure blood pressure, right?”
“Get your stuff and follow me,” she said.
She led me to an older man sitting in a warehouse office struggling to breathe, looking like he was about to pass out. I got on my knees and looked him in the eyes, “Are you ok?”
“My blood pressure is high. I don’t feel good,” he said.
I took his blood pressure. It was crazy, scary high. Something like 180/115 and his heart sounded wonky. I don’t know what heart palpitations sound like exactly, but my intuition said that’s exactly what I was hearing. Through my yoga education I learned that diaphragmatic breathing can reduce blood pressure, but I had never tested it.
After telling him his BP reading, I said, “Hi. I’m the temp wellness coach, filling in for Lisa while she’s on maternity leave. I’ve been a yoga instructor for 15 years. Would it be ok if I let you through a simple practice to help you relax?”
He nodded his head in approval.
I took a deep breath, instructed him to close his eyes and proceeded to lead him through a diaphragmatic breathing practice. Within those 5 minutes, I watched his body relax. I took his blood pressure again. It had dropped 20 points!
“How do you feel?”
“Better,” he said.”
“Good. Your blood pressure is still pretty high though.”
“I know, but I know my body and I could go back on the floor like this.”
“I don’t think that’s a great idea. How about I talk to the safety manager and I get you approved to stay on the clock and rest for a bit longer?” Is your next break soon?”
He nodded, “In 30 minutes.”
I got the extended break approved and found him a place to lay down. I walked back to my office, baffled.
What is this feeling?
Holy shit, this is going to be more rewarding than I ever dreamed.
As my warehouse supervisor, Bill, and I crossed paths late in the day I said, “You know, I think I’m going to like it here.”
“Oh yeah?” he replied.
“Yeah. I’ve never worked with this demographic before.”
He tilted his head and smiled.
“For the past 15 years I’ve been serving soccer moms.”
He laughed, “Yeah well, these guys aren’t soccer moms!”
I smiled. “Nope, and like I said, I think I’m going to like it here.”
As I drove home that night, I was a swirl of emotions. A part of me was overcome with sadness – I’ve never been with people in such physical and mental pain – it made my heart ache. Simultaneously, I felt ecstatic about the people I had already helped. Then I wondered, maybe this is bigger than me. And then I heard a voice from deep inside say, Maybe you’re their Christmas miracle. If you do nothing else but teach them how to breathe and how to stretch, you’ll give them a gift that will change their lives forever!
The interesting thing to me now is: at the beginning I thought I was a gift to them, but these people ended up being my Christmas Miracle. They touched me in ways I never expected and caused me to rise up, grow and truly live my ideals. I learned so much from them and learned more about myself in the process.
I didn’t realize until a few weeks later, that I had never been exposed to this level of diversity. I grew up in northwest Missouri in rural farming community – all white people, except for the hand-full of Native Americans. From there, I moved to Texas Christian University. Enough said. By the time I met Jacob, he had been working for Sprint since he was 17 and had already worked his way into management. I moved from my house near TCU into an apartment with him in the suburbs.
For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, philosophies, cultures and social economic backgrounds. Hell, a huge population of the warehouse workers have criminal backgrounds. This is not something I was expecting to walk into and probably would have been scared had I known going in.
You see, white privilege is a thing. Not something I thought about much before this. But I couldn’t help contemplating, as I got to know these amazing humans, how would their lives have been different had they had my background? Had they never had to want? Never had to worry about food on the table? Never had to wonder if they were loved, supported or valued?
How would I be different today had my mama been a crack-whore (literally) and I had to steal to support myself as a child? Would I have risen above it all to become who I am, or am I simply a product of my life’s positive circumstance?
Who the hell knows!?!?
But what I know for sure is, my unconscious issues due to my privileged background became quite clear to me. My anger going into the job. What was that all about? My edginess with my family after a 10-hour work day. They didn’t deserve that. I started noticing this ugliness within me, so going into meditation one day I asked my higher self: What is this in me? What am I supposed to be seeing here?
ENTITLEMENT! ENTITLEMENT! ENTITLEMENT! My subconscious screamed at me within my quiet stillness.
So, I Googled, “How to tell if you have entitlement issues,” and I found an article all about it. One major thing resonated: If you put expectations on others they don’t ask for, you might be entitled.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
I don’t mean to do it, but I often do. Looking deeper I realized that unconsciously…
I felt entitled to have a husband that supported all our finical needs and desires so I could have a work-life with a flexible schedule, driven solely by passion. Entitled to be angry at my family when life didn’t go my way. Entitled to off-load my emotions on those that love me the most because I knew they would take it. Knowing the pureness and kindness of my heart, knowing the good I attempt to spread in world, expecting that everyone else should treat me with kindness and appreciation right back.
But when Mason, a dude from the warehouse, looked me deep in the eyes and said, “I’ve never met anyone like you before,” I realized that over the past 15 years, hell maybe all my life, I have intentionally created a world filled with rainbows, unicorns and fairy dust. Most people don’t live in that world, and some don’t even know it exists.
I can’t expect others to meet me where I am when they didn’t come from where I did.
Unfortunately, I entered the job with a slight arrogance, knowing how much I had to share. However, these people had overcome things I couldn’t imagine facing – maybe I had something to learn from them too. And so, I quickly let go of my agenda of spreading wellness. Living well is what I do. So, I instinctively knew that if I did my best to show up every day, stand in my own light, remember who I am and spread fairy dust all over that damn place…those who were ready to receive my gifts would show up too.
Speaking of standing in my own light – it was HARD at first. I realized common mantras said by the workers started infecting my psyche. This is a dark place. This is a bad place. This place changes people.
Now, let me be clear. I don’t think those mantras were personally specific to this company. From my viewpoint, there wasn’t an “issue” with the business. The warehouse, to me, was a microcosm of our world. There are more have-nots than haves in our country. There are more people in physical and mental pain than thrive. It’s just a part of the human evolutionary story.
Those of us spiritual, new age folks tend to walk away from situations where the vibration isn’t high, where people aren’t buzzing on the goodness of life. We’re empaths and don’t want to pick up others’ “bad vibes.” But Mother Teresa washed feet. Jesus hung out with the homeless and the addicts. The great beings on this planet don’t create sanctuaries for them to hide from the pain of the world. Great beings rise up and allow their life to be their teaching. They’re in the trenches, walking alongside and caring for those who need it the most. And I want to be a great being too.
When I found myself wanting to hide in my office, I asked myself, “What practices do I need to do to stand in my own light here?”
Through grace, the answer came quickly.
You’re getting less physical activity than you have in 15 years. The lack of movement is messing with your bio-chemistry. You aren’t releasing as much serotonin as you’re used to. Walk. Walk and pray.
My predecessor instructed me to “take laps” or “go on rounds” throughout the warehouse and property daily, and I wasn’t doing that consistently yet. And so, I started a conscious practice: twice per day I walked the whole property – through the warehouse and along the fence-line. One lap was over a mile. I carried my clip board, stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, ready to serve. I asked the Divine Mother to please bring anyone across my path who needed my fairy dust. As I walked, I said my mantra, bringing peace to my mind – while praying to bring peace and wellness to everyone in the building. I followed my breath up and down my spine, cultivating my yogi-ninja skills to keep me centered and present. And sure enough, every time, I would find someone hiding out back, sneaking an extra cigarette break. I’d stop and we’d have a deeper, more meaningful conversation and connection had we chatted in the break room around everyone else. I’d meet truckers who never wandered in the main building. The mechanics in the garage came to anticipate my daily visits and would line up, smiling waiting to have their blood pressure taken. I’m not sure if they really cared about their blood pressure, liked looking at me, appreciated my good vibes or all of the above. But I don’t care.
It simply reminded me that thoughts are powerful; mantras reprogram the mind; prayer works; moving the body is important; and those who are meat to be on your path always show up if you pay attention.
Although I was doing my due diligence to keep my sprits high, there were days where I needed others to lift me up. People who are hurting, tend to hurt others. And there’s lots of people in pain. And through grace, on the few days where I took an unkind word too personally, there was a sweet soul ready to drop some wisdom.
Brycen, the mechanic, talked me through a couple rough days. Brycen reminded me that in life you’re only in control of 2 things: your attitude and your effort. And I took it to heart.
The week before Christmas I went around saying, “I’m the unofficial, self-proclaimed Gratitude Police. Everyday that I see you from now through the New Year, I’m going to ask you, ‘What are you grateful for today,’ because gratitude is a pathway to joy and we’re supposed to be joyful over the holidays. (Insert the biggest, most ridiculous smile I could muster.) But, let me tell you the rules first. 1) You can’t say, ‘Work or My Job,’ because we’re at wok and that’s too easy. 2) You can’t say, ‘Life or waking up today,’ because that’s too generic. I want something deep and heart-felt. And lastly, every time I ask, I’d love for you to give me a different answer. Sound good?” I’d smile big and wait for them agree. And then I’d ask, “So, what are you grateful for today.”
This was fun and almost everyone played along. After a few days, I even had people asking me what I was grateful for before I could ask them.
But one day someone didn’t want to play.
In the middle of the break room while everyone was eating lunch, a guy replied, “Nothing!”
“Oh, come on. Surely you have something you’re grateful for? Are you homeless? Do you have a car? Do you have clothes to wear?”
He wouldn’t crack. The interaction ended with him storming off and telling me I shouldn’t have spoken to him in the first place.
I hadn’t slept well the night before. I was feeling tired and emotional already, so his attitude went straight to my heart. Tears started falling and I walked out to my office. A man named Jeremy witnessed the interaction and followed me.
“Don’t let that guy get to you. He was being a jerk, but can I give you some perspective?”
“The ‘Gratitude Police.’ I get what you’re trying to do. It’s a good thing, but I think you should drop the rules.” He looked me deep in the eyes. “I’m an orphan. I was abandoned as a child. I have no family. I will spend Christmas alone. I’m homeless. I sleep in my car. I don’t know when my next warm meal will be. I am grateful I woke up today and didn’t freeze to death in my car. I am grateful to have this job. Having this job means I won’t be homeless for much longer.”
Tears streamed down my face. “I’m so sorry. I’ve had a privileged life. Oh my God! Many things I take for granted are the things many people are grateful for.” I looked him deep in the eyes. “Thank you for a new perspective and thank you for your kindness.” We hugged.
And there it was again, my entitlement staring at me in the face….
I immediately went on my afternoon walk, knowing I needed to breathe and pull myself back together. As I walked, I wondered, Is the ‘Gratitude Police’ the wrong approach. Does standing proud in my own light remind others of their shadow? Is it possible to shine too bright around others in pain? Is it unkind? Am I doing the right thing?
And so, I asked Jeremy. “Can I have some advice?”
After sharing with him my concerns, he said, “If something is strong on your heart, it’s there for a reason. You’re doing good. Not to get religious on you, but where there is good, the Devil will always try to get in. All I can say about what you should have done differently is, you should have walked away when you saw he didn’t want to play. He had no excuse to be rude. When you were pushing him, he should have said, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like talking right now.’ Had he said that, you probably would have walked away and that would have been that. However, even though he was putting up walls, you kept trying to get in. Had you just walked away instead of pushing, you would have protected your own heart. You can’t save everyone, Aubrey.”
I couldn’t stop the tears. “Thank you. Thank you for that. I appreciate your kindness and your encouragement more than you know. Thank you for being a blessing in my life.”
“No one has ever told me that before.”
Wow. Heart clutch.
On a lighter note…
Derrick taught me to not be afraid to joke about and ask questions to break down racial stereotypes.
“I know how you can remember my name,” he said during my 2nd week.
“How?” I asked.
“You watched Grey’s Anatomy, right?”
“No,” I said.
“What? I thought all white people watched Grey’s Anatomy,” he said.
I laughed. “Do you watch Empire?”
“What? I thought all black people watch Empire.”
Another day a table of 3 African-Americans asked me to sit with them in the break room. Mason asked, “I just have to ask, why the pink hair?”
“Because I want my outside to reflect how I feel on the insides.” I immediately turned to the woman, “So I shared.” I pointed to her mouth, “Why the grill?”
“Fashion, I guess,” she replied.
Breaking down barriers felt damn good and made me smile!
My conversations with Shaman Wallace were probably my favorite. I noticed him my first day. He reflected my light back to me. He has the best smile, positive attitude and spreads kindness like no other. We shared philosophies and he taught me about Kwanza. But most of all, “Sha” taught me that you can’t judge a person by his worst day.
Like I said before, most of my people had a criminal background. Sha was no different. I knew he had a criminal past, but I never asked him about it. The man he is today radiates love, joy, compassion, truth and grace. And after all, that’s all that matters, right?
Well, one day my curiosity got the best of me.
“Sha, what were you in for? Was it drugs?”
He shook his head, “My mama has always been on the streets. I’ve never touched drugs.”
“Then what was it?”
“Please don’t judge me,” he pleaded.
I took a deep breath.
“I was a different person then. I was just trying to survive. I was a thief, and someone owed me a bunch of money. And well, things went bad.”
“Well, you’re obviously not that guy anymore.”
“No ma’am.” We hugged.
He went back to work. I went back to my office. And I was flooded with a sense of gratitude – grateful that I didn’t know about his past until now. Had I known he had been convicted of attempted murder, I probably would have intentionally avoided him. I would have been scared, judging him today for who he was years ago.
And THAT was the biggest lesson I got from this warehouse – perspective. Right, wrong, good, bad, just, unjust – it all depends where you’re standing.
Before I thought my dharma was on a stage. It was bright and shiny. Standing on a pedestal teaching. I thought that being a yoga teacher looked a particular way, but I was wrong.
I am a yogi. It is my dharma.
People at the yoga studio and at the gym appreciate me and enjoy my skills, energy and knowledge, but they don’t need me.
After teaching a diaphragmatic breathing session to a 23-year old single mom of 3 kids who struggles with anxiety, I asked her, “When can you find 5 minutes a day to do this?” She hesitated. I grabbed her hand, looked deep in into her eyes and said, “You realize you’re worth 5-minutes of self-care each day, right?”
Her eyes welled up with tears. “No one has ever told me that before.”
WTF? No one? Really?
So yeah, I’m needed here. I’m needed there. I’m needed in the trenches. It was like I could hear Spirit saying: You’re being summoned to a new task. It’s not always going to be fun. There are going to be hard, sad days. But you will shine a light in people’s lives who have been living in the dark and you will change their lives forever. Are you up for the challenge?
YES! YES, I AM!
So, what I really learned from this temp position is – I don’t know shit.
Life has a plan for me. I’m not in control. I can hold on tight and throw an entitled temper tantrum…. or I can let go, surrender, show up and smile!
As I walked around saying my good-byes, people asked, “So, what’s next?”
“Good question. It looks like I’m back to the drawing board – I’m a yoga instructor and a stay-at-home mom looking for a full-time job.”
Since then, a lot has happened. I got such a positive response from the warehouse staff; I thought the 3rd party wellness company would hire me back and place me in another location. However, this opportunity continued to teach me lessons even after it was over.
Everything you just read poured out of me in February 2019, as soon as the temp position ended. The only difference was that the previous edit included the names of the companies and correct names of the employees.) Every job I’ve had in the past encouraged me to promote myself and my accomplishments on social media. So, after completing this article I published it on my website-blog and shared it on social media. And because of my bubbling heart, I forwarded the blog link to all my warehouse and wellness bosses.
Apparently sharing info about the wellness company’s clients on social media breaches confidentiality agreements. Because of my temp status, I was never informed of this rule – but I pissed off enough big wigs that I burnt a bridge. I immediately took this blog down off my website, hoping to make amends. Although I apologized and expressed my pure intentions, he informed me that my offence “was terminatable” and they wouldn’t be hiring me back.
Since then, Covid19 has happened. Although I had the opportunity to take all my classes online, I knew it was time to take a step back. When schools shifted to at-home-learning, I needed to focus all my attention towards helping my kids with learning differences do school.
I’m now a Stretch Practitioner for Stretch Zone, a assisted stretching franchise, back in the trenches. I’m finding myself teaching yoga every day still, it just looks different. I now have the opportunity to educate people who would never walk into a yoga studio about the power of their breath and how growing an intimate relationship with it can transform every aspect of their lives.
Regardless of what opportunities come or where life takes me, I will be forever changed and forever grateful for the lessons I learned in the warehouse. And because the bridge is already burnt, why not share this profound journey with my people? I couldn’t keep this story caged in my computer any longer. And so here it is…
Until next time….
Peace, love & fairy dust!