You've done a campaign called "Who am i?" So, Who are you?
On the surface I'm a mom, a wife, a business owner, and a yoga teacher. That's kind of putting it in a nutshell. If someone asks me what I do, I wrack my brains for a definitive answer — and more often than not I just say yoga teacher because it doesn't ask for any kind of clarification. I can't put what I do into like a category, and I don't think I actually want to.
I like the fact that what I do is an ever-evolving job. Only 18 months ago I was in a corporate nine to five where I fit into a box and sat in that box, never deviating and never changing. I did what was expected of me, no more and no less. I showed up every day and made my money. I gave my family what they needed and what I thought they wanted and succumbed to the fact that this was my life. Now, I'm just me. I wish that sufficed enough to have no need for more explanation, but unfortunately it doesn't to some.
Have you always been a big advocate for the practice of yoga?
I've always exercised and kept fit. When I had my children and there wasn't so much "me time," exercise was my escape, so I carried on going to the gym. While I was pregnant with my littlest, who's coming up for four, I trained to be a personal trainer and also earned a sports and exercise nutrition diploma. And that's when I kind of thought, "Fitness is what I really love," but still didn't feel I could carve a career from it.
Yoga on the other hand was too slow. I did a couple of classes at my gym and couldn't connect with it; I found it boring! I didn't have time in my fast-paced life to lie on the floor at the end of a class for 10 minutes and breathe. What was the point? That 10 minutes could be spent doing burpees or getting sweaty. Switching off to just breathe or clear my mind had no place in my life at that point.
A few years later I stumbled across a yoga challenge on Instagram. It sang to my ego. I thought, "I can do those things these pretty girls in lycra in beautiful destinations can do." I spent the next 10 days contorting my body into all manner of poses, picking up injuries left, right, and center just to prove I could do it. This wasn't yoga of course, but it sparked something inside me to understand a little more about these poses and how handstands and arm balances were considered yoga. This was the side of yoga that interested me, something aesthetic and strong.
I wasn't confident enough to go to a class, so I started searching online for yoga tutorials and fell into the online world of yoga and asana practice. I pretty much got scooped up into online classes and platforms and began practicing strong, powerful yoga every day from the comfort of my living room.
At first I was practicing when no one was in the house, and pushing myself more and more to do more advanced postures and classes. I was practicing yoga, getting more flexible and also getting a cardio workout in at the same time. I was loving it. Some time over the coming weeks and months something changed and something clicked. The savasana at the end of a class or practice that I'd previously dismissed was suddenly welcomed, and those 5-10 minutes of lying in meditative silence with my breath started to matter. My brain was still going at a million miles an hour, but I was calm and free of anxiety and stress. I wasn't required to do anything during my time on the mat apart from be present. Kids, bills, work, none of it mattered while I was practicing yoga.
I eventually built up the courage to start attending a few classes and realized that yoga was for everyone. The different kinds of people practicing yoga all together blew my mind. And over time, I started becoming a little bit more inquisitive and came to realize that because of this practice of breathing and flowing, I was being more mindful and calm, taking this practice off the mat and into my life.
I had a fast-paced, stressful job that saw me travelling on a daily basis and attending events, meetings, and conferences often at the drop of a hat. Yoga taught me to slow everything down a little bit, and I found myself telling people about the benefits as my passion grew. I realized yoga was for everyone and could benefit all sorts of people.
This led me into my yoga teacher training. I had a real passion here, something I wanted to talk about and spread the word on a much larger scale and felt I needed a qualification and a deeper understanding of yoga to be able to do that.
did you start training to be a yoga teacher and just quit? Can you tell us What helped you finally take the leap?
No! It was way more complicated than that! I need to have plans and a process in order to do big things. I'm not the sort of person who takes a big leap if there's risks. My husband is a big dreamer and creator and has always believed that if you can dream it you can do it, but I'm completely from the other side of the fence. I always need a plan and am always thinking "What if?" I was always the one slowing things down and pulling on the reins. I needed to know we were able to pay the bills at the end of the month, whereas Rob is happy as long as we are together, even if we're living in a cardboard box!
I decided to do my yoga teacher training when I was still working full time. I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with it, but I knew I needed to do the training. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to be a full-time yoga teacher or even teach at all. I just knew that I somehow found something that was enabling me to cope with the stresses and the anxieties of life, and I wanted to understand a little bit more about it so I could share it with others.
So after my training I started teaching on the side. I was doing my 9 to 5 in the day and teaching classes in the evening but was still a little bit unsure about the exact direction I wanted to go. But it got to the point where it got to be too much. I couldn't work a nine to five, be a mom to four kids, and a wife, and support my husband while working days and evenings. My husband had recently set up his own company, and while things were really going well I was all too aware of the emotional and financial strains businesses can put on a family, so I had to consider the next steps carefully.
It got to the point where I just soldiered on. I kept juggling my corporate career, while teaching yoga on the side. Until one day out of the blue Rob just said, "Give it all up and come and join me." We have different skills to each other that work in harmony, and he convinced me that what I could contribute to Ohana would be more fulfilling and give me the freedom to be able to live a happier life.
That's when I took the leap.
When you left your full-time job did you have any pushback outside of your immediate family?
I wouldn't describe it as pushback per se, more concern. I was brought up by parents who always worked and always saved. My dad literally worked every hour to earn every penny possible and made sure he had savings to fall back on to be able to then live his life when he retired. And he has always instilled that into my sisters and me.
We all started our careers in corporate jobs working for big international companies with a guaranteed paycheck at the end of every month come rain or shine.
Stepping outside of this was a little bit of a culture shock for them. It didn't make sense to them that I wanted to leave security and safety to leap into the unknown and be solely dependent on myself for generating income for my family.
Over time I think I've proved that my drive and determination to make things work have swayed their way of thinking, and I’m lucky enough to have an extremely hard working and ambitious husband as a business partner who didn’t sleep until he'd created a business that supports us in the way the corporate world used to.
Can you tell us what it's like going from something you knew so well to now creating your own world?
It was scary. I had doubts, didn't know whether I was cut out for it and whether I was driven enough. I was questioning whether I could actually do it.
I'm very much a believer in positive mindset. It truly does change everything. At first I had all these negative emotions and self doubt every day, but then I made the conscious decision to believe in myself and my abilities, and each day gets easier now.
But, it's been the best decision I've ever made. It is really important to wake up and to smile and be grateful for everything you've achieved around you. Sure, it's pressure, but that's what drives me. A little bit of pressure, or a deadline, spurs me on.
You create your own universe. You create exactly what you want to create; anything is possible. If I sit here and moan all day that it's hard or I can't do it, then yes, that's true. If I go out there and dictate what's happening today, then that's true too!
How has being an entrepreneur and also becoming a yoga instructor changed your daily perspective?
It's the benefits of just stopping and breathing that grounds me. I say that I have a daily yoga practice, but I don't roll my mat out every day.
The physical side of yoga, the asana, is such a tiny little bit. Sitting by myself in my favorite chair and closing my eyes for five minutes is yoga. Taking my dogs for a walk and not taking my phone or my watch and just appreciating what is all around is yoga.
I now make sure that I have time for me. And that can be five minutes in the park, two minutes doing this, going for a run — to me that is still yoga and a yogic way of life. Yoga means to unite — so sitting and combining the body and the mind with the breath is yoga.
I think another thing that it's done is allowed me to be very much more open. I was a very closed, tense person, always like a coiled spring ready to snap at any time. I'm not now. I'm so much more chilled and laid back.
My relationship with my children and with my husband has strengthened as a result. Instead of hiding things away, I now deal with things in the moment instead of burying them in the sand. I think that because my children see that kind of transparency from me it encourages them to be more open as well.
What inspires and motivates you to keep growing and challenging yourself?
My children are my driving force. I want to show them anything is possible and they don't have to do what society expects from them to be successful.
My youngest daughter is nearly 4; she sees the world through innocent and inquisitive eyes. She lives to play, she forgives and forgets easily, and she genuinely enjoys every day. It's made me wonder when it all changed. When did we stop playing and become serious adults? And why do we lose that innocence and play? It inspires me to put my phone or laptop away and just play for a while. This in turn helps me to be more creative, both in my yoga and my communications company. That's my biggest motivator.
What advice would you give others?
If I'd have realized this 25 years ago my life could have been vastly different, but I didn't, and was it too late? No! I've got a whole life ahead of me and I know I'm now following the right path for me.
I recently was part of an amazing campaign with Flybery Sport that asked the very question "Who am I?” and really made women all over the world stop and think. It's a question we're all so quick to answer with a label: I'm a mother; I'm a teacher; I'm a nurse. But that's not who you are. That's what you are. To answer who you are, you have to look inside and dig deep — maybe even get uncomfortable and honest with yourself.
So who am I? I am a little girl who still gets things wrong, and sometimes I need a little validation. So my best piece of advice would be to dig deep and figure out who you really are, instead of trying to be who you think you're supposed to be. Embrace your uniqueness, and just because you are a part of society doesn't mean you need to conform to the norm.
I was unhappy for so long, trying to live up to an expectation of who I thought that I was supposed to be, without ever finding out what or who I really was. Giving yourself the time and space to really identify this and answer the question, "Who am I?" can be really rewarding and also life-changing.
You have to wholeheartedly believe in yourself. When I took this big leap of faith, the reason I was able to was because I knew that if everything failed then I could say I tried. Whereas if I got to 10 years down the line and I didn't try it, I'd spend the rest of my life in regret. All I want really, is to encourage people to be true to themselves and just try it. What's the worst that could happen?
Follow her on IG: @alohaandcoffee
Zoe is a yoga teacher, branding and communications company co-owner, wife, and mom of four. She spent nearly 18 years running in one direction before realizing she was going completely the wrong way and decided to go back to the start again. She turned her back on everything she knew, and retrained to become a yoga teacher.
Words: Zoe Woodward
This interview has been edited for clarity.