I first heard of yoga in 1998 and eventually took my first class in early 2000. In 2005 I had gone on a trip to Mexico with a then boyfriend. During that trip I had met a self-proclaimed healer named, Jacqueline, who was a friend of my ex’s. I had never heard of a healer more or less knew what they did. She was incredibly fascinating. She insisted she was called to be there for my ex, – to heal him – which was fine with me, but I was so curious about her and this healing business.
She allowed me to sit in while she healed a new-friend-to-me’s knee. She seemed like she was in a trance with her hands over my friend. She told me after she was moving energy around. I wasn’t sure how to ask her questions because I was so perplexed on what I saw and didn’t even know where to start. So I had asked my new friend how her knee felt and she looked at me with clear eyes and said, “I don’t have any pain!”
Although Jacqueline was convinced she was there for my ex-boyfriend, I was convinced she was there for me. She’d challenge me after we’d meet up with people and she’d say to me, “read what just happened. What were the signs?” I really had no idea what she’d talk about but I loved analyzing and observing people, just as I’d done for decades on a dropzone, so I’d just share what I saw. She’d challenge me further on what next steps to take and what it would look like, and to think of things “multidimensionally.’ It was hard to wrap my brain around all of this. And she’d never stop. She’d always be in and out of trances and challenging me.
In 2006 I made a big move to Hawaii, slowing down my full-time skydiving career to – I don’t know – figure shit out. It was the first time I’d ever live a non-skydiving life – even though I managed to work at Skydive Hawaii for bits of time while I was there, and would travel back to the mainland to be hired out by skydiving centers. It was still a new life for me.
Jaqueline had come to visit, again for my ex, but we’d often go adventuring together. Not only was she very challenging to be around, and fascinating, but she was extraordinarily fun. On her trip and in one of her trances, she looked at me and said, “I feel like you are meant to be a yoga instructor.” I looked at her baffled. I was born a skydiver, I lived the skydiver life, and I knew I’d always be a skydiver. “Let’s look for places for you to learn,” she insisted.
I thought she was crazy.
As a skydiving instructor, I often told my students learning the basics to skydive that they needed to breathe and relax. I also found myself saying that to my freefly coach students, then the world record trainees. I knew I had to learn more about breathing.
There wasn’t much online at the time, but I’d found a book on Pranayama and immediately resonated with it and started practicing different breath techniques. I also discovered other aviation breaths, and other types of breaths free divers used. I never thought of pranayama with yoga as it seemed completely separate and yoga was just becoming popular in the west, so it wasn’t an obvious correlation as it wasn’t really known.
Yoga Found Me
Jacqueline and I went to an internet cafe – yes this was the days before smart phones, accessible and fast internet existed like it does today – to research a yoga training facility. I wondered online and a training caught my eye and made my heart drop. I saw their logo which resonated with me as it was similar to the sobriety logo – it seemed like it was a piece of a puzzle that Jacqueline had helped me realize as before she kept having me search for “signs.” Whether it was really true or not, in 2007 I signed up to go to the White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, California.
My White Lotus Experience
I was so nervous going to Santa Barbara from Hawaii, I could hardly sleep. I kept thinking, I have no clue about yoga. I don’t know it’s history, I’ve only read a few books and discovered a few yoga classes along the way. But I was a blank slate feeling like an imposter because I knew nothing about it, I was a skydiver, not a yogi.
As much as I mentally battled if I was really in the right place, I couldn’t help but look back at my skydiving career. Stretching, weight lifting and working out was a thread throughout my life. You can see hints in this as I love the disciplines of freestyle and freeflying and the pictures are undeniable.
I had no idea how fortunate I was that the lead trainers of the Yoga Teacher Training at White Lotus were famous yogis who pioneered different styles and helped modernize it as it made its way here to the west – Ganga White and Tracey White. Legends. Their property in Santa Barbara was up in the hills away from town with lush forests, streams, and waterfalls. They had cabins and yurts and a stay-in vegetarian chef for the retreat. As soon as I could simply do as I do every time I left an airplane, I let go and was in heaven.
Ganga’s approach to yoga was very unorthodox. In fact, I’ve embodied it because it helped me let go of having to ‘look’ and ‘talk’ a certain way. His philosophy freed me from the idea of what a yogi had to be. He was all about the scientific and artistic perspectives of yoga as well as appreciating it’s history and where it came from. This. This is why Jacqueline quizzed me on following the “signs.” I couldn’t have found a better place and a better person to learn from.
I’m a Yoga Instructor, Now What?
I made it through the 16 day training feeling invigorated embarking on a new journey. And I was sore. My body felt wrecked for sitting on the floor for days, practicing techniques, adjusting bodies, holding poses – I’d never done anything like that before! In 2007 I became a Yoga Instructor. Now what?
I opened a little Yoga on the Beach studio across the street from the dropzone in Hawaii. I used big plywood boards to practice on and would bury them after class so no one would steal them. Although it was an amazing experience teaching on the beach and Ganga was an incredible instructor, I felt so uncomfortable being new at something. It wasn’t long before I began a love-hate, and on-again-off-again relationship with yoga.
I taught yoga at many skydiving boogies and maintained an on-again-off-again personal practice. Sometimes I’d even stroll through towns I visited and daydream at every empty storefront I’d see and imagine a yoga studio… or another kind of business that would suit the space.
I visited Jacqueline in Australia – where she was from – after my teacher training and was excited to share it all with her. I also took yoga on my stand up paddle board back to Hawaii and quickly became a tourist attraction (I’d like to think I helped push SUP yoga as that was back in 2010)!
Jacqueline had another one of her visions as we toured around Australia together. She said,
Melissa, I see that you will own a yoga studio and you will have one baby.
If you know me, you know I was in complete denial and now that I grew more fond of her, I still thought she was crazy. I never wanted to get married or have children. And I was still a professional skydiver! And I wasn’t so sure about the yoga thing still!
A few years after my visit with Jacqueline in Australia, she passed away in a plane crash. I was devastated to lose a friend and such a positive influence in the world. Her words rung loud in my head, but I just wasn’t on that path and after some time, those words faded away.
Fast forward to 2017. My husband, kiddo and I moved to Colorado. By this time, I knew I needed yoga. I missed it. So I tried to pick up a practice in the little town we moved to. Classes were cancelled last minute, I didn’t resonate with the teachers, it was mostly gym yoga and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled.
I was working at a co-working space in the little downtown and I was on the phone with my husband, “I can’t find any good yoga here.” He replied, “There’s space across the street from where you work, let’s go take a look at it.” The rest, as they say, is history. I opened up Colorado Yoga House held gong baths, and held my first, and the town’s first, yoga festival, I became Yin Certified, Yoga Trapeze Certified, Personal Trainer Certified, became a Yoga Alliance School to host 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Trainings, and created a network of incredible yoga instructors who support each other to this day.
It wasn’t until after a class when talking to some students after I had opened the studio that it dawned on me. Jacqueline was right. I had one child and just opened a yoga studio.
I also been busy on the Highlight Skydiving Pro Team as well as I was just recently elected as the new USPA National Director. Even though skydiving is still a high priority in my life, I no longer wonder about being a yogi. It’s something that is now a part of me, something I take with me in my everyday and share however I can.