Learn more about Karen Marie Richardson, our student of the month for May!
Q: Hi, Karen! How did you get into yoga?
So, yoga came to me on the heels of a breakup on July of last year. The person I was dating was saying some things I didn’t agree with at all and I decided to end the relationship. After I ended the relationship, for whatever reason I decided that I wanted to meditate him away and I had never meditated before. I closed my eyes for 30 minutes and was meditating on letting go and after that happened, I opened my eyes and said, “I’m starting yoga tomorrow.” So I started yoga on July 7th, 2017 and I haven’t stopped.
Q: Wow, that is quite a story. So how does that tie into Bread and Yoga. How did you find us?
I looked up yoga studios near me and kind of wandered over. I took a class and then signed up!
Q: Great! So I know you’re doing a 365 days of yoga challenge now. How did that start?
The first month of yoga I did, I practiced only 2-3 days of week. Because I had been working out daily in 2016, I injured myself terribly. So I wanted to find something to do daily, but I decided to just dip my toe in the water with yoga. So I did three days a week and began to feel more comfortable and I as I felt more comfortable, I asked if it would be healthy to practice daily and she encouraged me to do some research on it and see how it felt…So I started going everyday and then I said, “What if I committed everyday to this to see what it’s like and also to see if I’m really interested in teacher training and then I can explore yoga daily and see what that does.” I’ve never committed to something every single day, other than maybe taking care of myself, but even that… So I started on August 19th and I’ve been practicing everyday ever since. If I travel, I practice. If I’m at home, I practice. I have a bolster and straps at home.
Q: Incredible! So what does your practice look like when you’re not able attend Bread and Yoga or another studio? Do you lead yourself, do you turn on a youtube video?
I try to do the Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) a good 3 or 4 times and then if I feel like I need restorative, I’ll do a restorative class to myself.
Q: So you’re potentially interested in teacher training. Is that a route you feel that you’ll go?
It is getting stronger everyday. The thought of being able to help or encourage someone into letting go is an exciting thought for me. I write motivational and inspirational things online and I’m working on a few different books on inspiration, so to know that there can be a message within a practice and that there can be a motion that could send someone into letting go of something or moving forward toward something is really encouraging. I’m definitely strongly considering it.
Q: Letting go is kind of your MO…
Letting go, being willing to acknowledge things exactly as they are with no opinions or thoughts on them is a really big thing, especially with class… Being self aware, acknowledging that it’s the ego encouraging you to do the pose in spite of where you might be in the day. So I don’t think I was completely — well, I don’t think — I know for sure that I was not acknowledging my headspace before yoga, but yoga encourages you to look inside and acknowledge things as they exactly are. And it’s not a race. I was thinking about this while practicing today… I used to be in one spot in the studio, over to the right by the wall. I was like, “This is my spot. I’m not going to move.” And I made a conscious effort to get to the studio a half hour before class so I could get that space. But then I realized, “You know… I can’t be rigid in this. I have to acknowledge that there might be times when I’m not going to be in that space and I need to move around.” So now, I’m alternating because it’s good and healthy practice to go in different places in my mind. And also…being now in the front, it encourages me to not pay attention to what everyone else is doing, to not look around and acknowledge whats happening behind me or around me. To get into a peak of a pose, I can try to make my way into dolphin or a headstand or a handstand without feeling like, “What’s that person doing?” And then if I do turn around and I see someone get to a pose, I acknowledge that that’s what they’re doing and that’s where they are in their practice, but that doesn’t have to reflect on mine. So I don’t feel like, “Wow! They did it. I can’t believe I couldn’t do that.” Instead I’m like, “Great. Celebration. Now I gotta get back into what I’m doing.”
Q: That’s a great point. And so true. Do you have days where you can’t fit yoga in? We all get busy, so what do you do on those days where you don’t have time or just don’t feel like it?
My body will not allow me to miss. Because the mind will do whatever it wants to do. The mind will say whatever message it wants to say. My mind has woken up in the morning and said, “Let’s not do that. I don’t want to do that.” But the feet and the rest of the body are dressed and ready to go to yoga class. Hahah. Without hesitation.
The body marches me to yoga. I’ll give an example. I’m a performer and I was heading into auditions for the first time in a long time. I went to the audition and missed my 9am class and it didn’t look like I would be seen until afternoon. I was seen… and my body said, “Great, now where are we going to have our class?” And I went to Laughing Lotus that day and practiced — didn’t matter what level, just needed to practice. The feet were marching in the direction of the studio. Hahah.
Q: So what day are you on?
Q: Wow, so admirable. How has your practice evolved over the course of this challenge?
It’s pushed me past the point of “I can’t”… It’s changed my mindset completely. I am completely different person thanks to yoga. The sense of community that Bread and Yoga has handed me is something I have not felt since I moved here. So now it’s changed my outlook on reacting to things immediately and in the moment. It’s now observation. Example: I see someone’s upset. I acknowledge they’re upset and they may need the space to go into whatever it is that they need to feel better and that I may not be able to control their feelings or emotions. I can only control what I can do for me, or how I’m feeling.
Q: Tell me a bit more about what yoga has done for you physically and mentally.
Physically between yoga and veganism, I’ve lost over 50 lbs and kept it off. I was having some health issues at the same time I was starting yoga and I thought maybe I should do an elimination diet and figure out what the problem is. And as soon as I started making eliminations, the next thing you know, things started getting better. And I was like, well I’ve got to stick with this. I’m not going to leave this behind. And I don’t feel tempted. I used to miss cheese and now I make it…with cashews.
But yeah, Bread and Yoga has opened a whole new channel to my life that I never knew I had. I said to someone yesterday, and I know this sounds super grim…but I said, “For the last 20 years of my life, I’ve been dead…” I’ve been sedentary or forced into motion from gym classes in my youth but not willing to acknowledge that I deserved a better life for myself or better opportunities for myself. I’d been pouring into every other person in the world besides myself and that level of neglect reached a head and when it did, I woke up out of it and it all started with being able to let go of someone who was discouraging me.
Q: Wow, what an incredible wake up call. The second you start to feel the effects of a more energized, healthier body and mind you realize THAT’s real self care — and you deserve that.
I’ve seen people look and feel the way I do now and thought, “Wow, I really wish something like that would happen to me. But that’s not possible.” But now I wake up in the morning with boundless energy. I feel mellowed out. I feel like my energy is much more productive than it ever has been. And I feel like I’m giving myself the mental food and the capabilities to do whatever I wish. And to encourage others to do the same.
Q: So why yoga over say…Zumba or the gym? Hahah.
I mean I was in dance and I did the gym stuff. The difference for me: gym exercises are more about what the body looks like once it’s all done. You know, I would finish my stairmaster daily… I’d watch Wendy Williams on the stairmaster everyday and after it was over, I would look for instant gratification. I would look in the mirror like, “Okay, what’s changed? Is something different?” And that’s not realistic. There’s no delight in it. It wasn’t terribly nightmarish…it just wasn’t fun or encouraging. I’m going to lift this weight. Awesome. Cool. It seemed very regimented, but with yoga you’re not in charge of what’s happening regarding the teachers encouraging you to do something. You’re following them and then they say, okay be your own teacher to a certain degree, so whatever your body needs at the time you’re doing it. I guess the point is, there’s a lot more road ahead with yoga, as opposed to the gym.
Yes! It’s not just about the physical body. It’s also about the mind and how that informs the movement!
It’s like a reverse trickbag. I didn’t acknowledge that my body was changing until well into the 2 months of my transition. I didn’t even know… Someone was like, “Wow. You look different!” Pants and shirts stopped fitting…
Q: I love this. Okay so what’s your favorite pose?
Half moon. It’s the idea of flying and being in serenity, in a balance. For me, it’s like floating, but with concentration. You are needing to be as free, yet as balanced as possible…controlled chaos.
Q: Beautiful! What you do for a living?
I sing, I act, I’m a songwriter, I move, I teach voice.
Q: And how does yoga inform those things?
Those things are all well and good, but yoga tapped me on the shoulder and said, “But who are you? Yes, you do all these things, but who are you? And what does it all mean?” So yoga is encouraging me more than any other profession to just live. At first I was scared. “What do you mean? Are you saying quit? Are you saying pivot? Are you saying make your way into something else?” I got a little defensive. But yoga says, “No no. Do those things…You’re not what you do and that doesn’t define you. Let this movement show you who you are inside and help you feel worthy with no restraint or attachment.”
Yeah. That’s beautiful I love that.
It’s a scary thing though. People will come to you and ask questions…”Why aren’t you on broadway? Why don’t you have a record deal?” In addition to all the practical responses, you breath on the other side and say, “Okay, well I see that you don’t understand this completely and I could explain that, OR I could just say: I’m going to live. Let me live. I will live.”
Q: That’s huge. How do you stay happy and balanced living in New York?
It’s about knowing and acknowledging that you a first a person. Just a person and acknowledging that much. Then I can start to feel what I’m feeling and acknowledge what I want or don’t want to happen and go from there. It’s all a slow process…much slower. New York is all about acceleration and movement and for me it’s about slowing the process down and observing. What do I need right now in this moment? Do I need to lay down and rest? Do I need to lift my knees to my chest. Do I need to walk around? What do I need? And not letting it lag, because if you let it lag, then it starts to collect. And once it starts to collect then you’re pushing yourself into a different direction and you’re dong something you don’t really want to be doing. But I guess the point is, and this sounds simple, but I just am, I just live. Live fluidly.
Balance is knowing that I’m not on a timeline, or a schedule to just live. It’s simply living. The delight of living is just being and experiencing whatever it is that’s necessary for you. It’s the reeeallllly simple things. I just want to be in this moment. It’s about acknowledging and observing something that’s taking place in front of you and not reacting to it until you’ve contemplated the origin of whatever that is. I know I might say something nasty to someone all because I didn’t plant my feet on the floor today. So I’m going to plant my feet on the floor before I say anything. So, that’s the balance.
Q: What an amazing realization. Anything else you want to add?
Bread and Yoga feels like home. I love it. The teachers, the karmis, the owner, everything is family oriented. There was no bigger evidence of that to me than New Year’s Day…having brunch after a new year’s yoga class and that sense of community that lives inside that space even if there isn’t an event going on. When I looked at yoga back before I start this, I thought yoga was going to be pretentious. I thought yoga was going to be Instagram and Snapchat photos of people on their heads and I didn’t even consider the possibility that I would be made available to that. I thought you would definitely have to be flexible to practice yoga. And that if I practice, that there wouldn’t be an opportunity to grow within my flexibility. I was a pom pom when I was 16 years old and I was the pom pom that couldn’t do the splits. And now when I’m working on the splits…I didn’t think it was possible in the beginning. Bread and Yoga undid that for me.
What do they say? If you do a thing for long enough…it takes 365 days to know that you’re dedicated to something that’s not only changed your body, but also changed your life. So I’m always humble and grateful to it…and grateful to Bread and Yoga.
Aw, we love you! Sounds like the best gift you could receive.
It’s funny. I’ve always been terrified of being upside down. In the very first class, Nancy said, “Alright, we’re going upside down everybody!” And I said, “Okay”. Instead of being like, “no, I dont do that”, I said “alright”. She said trust the wall. And I did.