City: San Francisco, California

Passion: Healing


Twitter: @leighferrara

Like Leigh, I've always believed that "how are you?" is a more important question than "what do you do?" I can also relate to it being hard to beat the pressure and compulsion to 'achieve' in a fast-paced New England suburb. I met Leigh early one Sunday morning and stood by in stillness and awe while she moved through a few yoga poses for the shoot. Leigh not only moves through her daily practice with fluidity and intention - she shows up to life as her whole person. Injury forced her to pause and look at her life, and choices, in a whole new light. In her transition from journalism to teaching yoga full-time, she's deep in her journey of self-love. She's also out in the community teaching at various locales in the city including Yoga Tree Potrero and Yoga Mayu. Leigh inspires me with her courage, grace and wisdom.

On Passion

I was a Division One athlete in college, and then one day my legs went numb. Turns out I was dealing with the physical effects of recent and past emotional trauma, combined with the rigorous training program of a college athlete. I had a yoga VHS tape (Wow. I feel so old.) that my mom had given me so I started practicing daily in my apartment. The physical healing came first. Yoga continued to sprinkle its fairy dust on my life for the next eight years until my back went out in 2008. I was working full-time as a journalist, and I wanted out. Long distance running had operated as my escape, but with a bum back, I had to confront the life I didn’t like. Gentle yoga on my living room floor and long walks helped me quit my job, even though the thought of starting over was terrifying to me. It was the middle of the recession, and everyone thought I was crazy to quit.
That year changed everything. I moved back east, bunked in with my childhood best friend, and used the hours and hours of idle time I newly had to vision my future: yoga. My inner judgement was fierce: Who makes a career out of yoga?; My parents are going to freak out; I’ll for sure starve; I’ll never be good enough; People will judge me; Nothing about this will show people that I’m smart; I can’t believe I’m starting over at this age.
But yoga would do more for me than heal me physically or help me transition my career. Over the years, yoga has walloped my ego, helped me heal my deepest wounds, and showed me that I didn’t need to fear pain or joy. I reclaimed a love for my body again after struggling with an eating disorder, and started to understand the trauma I had been carrying around for years.

On Mastery

I like to pluck various techniques and teachings from a huge pool of modalities. Somatic therapy, pilates, and physical therapy have all influenced the way that I teach and the advice that I pass along to my students. And working one-on-one with some of the most brilliant movement teachers in the city helped me hone my craft. (Harvey Deutch, Lauren Slater, Jason Crandell, Kerri Kelly, Carolina Czechowska: I’m talking to you.) I feel like I’m just scratching the surface, though, so mastery seems like a funny word to me.
I read a lot when I’m not teaching, poring over all things health and healing: blogs, books, online videos. And I follow people online who are talking about ayurveda, physical therapy, ballet, health, nutrition, spinal movements, you name it. And then I try not to freak out about all the things that I don’t know.
Lastly, I move on my own. Religiously. We forget how much intelligence there is stored up in this body of ours.

On Transition

Something made me leap the year I started my first teacher training. I’m still not sure what it was. I think I was desperate to get to know myself.
During my transition, I still had one foot in the media world as a freelancer. People would ask me what I did for a living. I always replied, “I’m a journalist. And...I teach yoga.” Growing up in a household and town that valued intellectual pursuit, I wanted to make clear to folks that I was smart. I was insecure. Ironically, nothing would challenge my brain more than the work I do every day trying to listen to my body.
Today, I really enjoy creating yoga programming for groups of people who haven’t been exposed to yoga or face a barrier to integrating it into their lives, whether that’s an individual block or as a consequence of their environment. In November, together with my cofounder, I launched a men’s yoga program. The feedback has been outstanding. I also teach a weekly trauma-sensitive yoga class to the young boys and girls at the San Francisco residential facility, Edgewood. Each week, I’m driving, biking, and walking all around the city from class to class. I teach at Yoga Mayu, Yoga Tree Potrero, and Mission Cliffs, as well as to a badass crew of private and corporate clients. Sometimes, I can even drag my students away from their iPhones to go on retreat.

On Failure

As a perfectionist, everything can feel like a failure to me. My practice has always been, and still is today, to cut myself a break over and over again. Remembering that life is a work in progress and that there is no time at which you are supposed to know everything or be able to achieve everything puts things into perspective for me.
We’re just learning as we go, making adjustments, starting over, and misstepping. If we can embrace that -which is really hard, I know - life feels less like a rat race to me. I’m also working on using new language around failure. Thomas Edison is helping me: ‘I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’

On Fear

I have all the typical fears around money and failure, but mostly I fear being seen when I’m not up for being seen. When I don’t feel strong, presentable, beautiful, perfectly put together etc. This is still my biggest battle as a teacher, since whether you’re up for it or not, every day you have to show up and be seen.
My students, especially the ones who I work with one-on-one, have been instrumental in teaching me to show up as me. They pushed me to peel back the layers. I also try to remember that one of the most basic human desires is to see that another human is flawed too. We feel connected through that. This concept inspires me to show up even when I feel messy.

On Money

I’m still in debt, but I’ll be debt free in May of 2014! Yoga doesn’t have a reputation for big paychecks. That’s not news. Nor do we have a reputation as fierce business entrepreneurs. But you can make a living if you work strategically. Transitioning slowly was a big part of my initial success, as was the financial help I received from my boyfriend at the time during my training. I straddled the media and yoga world for the first few years of my teaching career. I researched a book, freelanced and worked a part-time media gig. It was a hustle. And I was tired all the time. But now Leigh Ferrara Yoga sustains me 100%, and I get to dedicate all of my time to what I love. That feels really good.
Did I have to change my lifestyle? Not really. You don’t make squat as a journalist either. I think I probably live a cushier life now.

On Self-Love

I’m my fiercest critic, so self-love has never come easy to me. Self-love and I are always in relationship. I’m trying to woo her and she’s trying to evade me.
When you start your own business, you have to believe in yourself. Or you have to practice believing in yourself every day. Some days, I struggle with this more than others. For those days, I turn to self-care: massages, baths, 2-hour long talks with a friend, etc.
I’m still learning that self-care does not equal self-love, although they do feed each other. I used to equate the two, but it doesn’t matter how many massages you get or baths you take unless you can work to rewrite your inner dialogue — retrain that little voice that says “I’m not enough” or “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t do this.” And that takes practice. I work daily to accept me as being enough.

On Inspiration

People who show up as themselves. With all their baggage and dirty laundry and faults and strengths and beauty all smashed together in a messy, wonderful package of a person on display for everyone to see. I think it’s the hardest thing we are tasked to do as humans. I’m inspired by those people.

On Support

I depend on a team of people who support me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I have too many mentors to name. They are brilliant minds with enormous hearts. And my friends deserve 500 words on this subject. But, I think my parents wrote the definition for support in Merriam Webster. I’m so grateful for them.
What I’ve found most interesting about this career is that some of my students support me as much as I support them. If you play a part in helping someone transform their physical or emotional life, they will return the love. I like that. It’s not a dynamic I anticipated.
But the most important lesson I’ve learned on this subject is that support is a two way street. If you can’t receive it, it’s like it’s not there. A colleague of mine once called my relationship to my support network a funnel, calling out my inability to receive as a bottleneck to the huge flow that was trying to get in. I’ve been practicing leaning back on people ever since.

Advice to the Community

Running your own business can be really confronting. You’ll bump into you around every corner. And this is not easy. But it’s worth it. Try to face all the things that you hide or are ashamed of. And then embrace them. I know it sounds cliche. But you need them. They make up your whole person, which is what people respond to. And it’s what will make your business hum and your heart sing.