I Left My Corporate Job And Became A Yoga Instructor To Help Other Black Women Handle The Stress That Almost Took Me Out
Courtesy of Asia Galberth

I was diagnosed with moderate to severe scoliosis when I was 13 years old. My grandma noticed a curve in my spine while trying on dresses. Throughout my teenage years, I had on and off back pain, terribly random back spasms, and with my frame being so small, the curve in my spine was noticeable. I saw a doctor at 16 and he told me I had the option of getting surgery where they would place metal rods along my spine to straighten out the curve, or I could try yoga or physical therapy and see if that helped. 

When I was in college, I would take a yoga class here and there, but I never made it a priority. I felt weird being the only Black person in the class all the time and the music at the studios would often confuse and annoy me. I was not flexible at all, and I stuck out like a sore thumb in every class. I convinced myself that yoga wasn’t for me.

That was until I began working in the corporate world after college. Sitting at a cubicle for seven hours a day forced me back into yoga because my back pain was too much. I had to give it another try. 

After years of fighting it, I was about 22 years old when yoga and I fell in love. I would move my furniture around in my apartment so that I had space to practice. I found myself meditating before going to bed at night and taking yoga classes weekly.  It was fully a part of my lifestyle and my back pain was becoming a thing of the past. Things were going great for me physically and mentally, and I’d even secured a new job. And then things changed.

Courtesy of Asia Galberth

I was working in downtown Chicago in a beautiful skyscraper. I felt proud to be starting my career after working so many odd desk jobs. The very first day at my new job, the moment I saw the cubicles I would have to work in, I had a mini panic attack. I told myself I was just overwhelmed with so much to learn and brushed it off.

I would try my best to perform the duties of my job but the anxiety never really went away.  In fact, as the months passed, it had gotten worse. On Sunday nights, I noticed that I went to sleep anxious and couldn’t figure out why. The anxiety only continued to worsen. I would feel my heart rate pick up a little when I would get on the train in the morning on my way to the office. Once off, the anxiety would pick up a little more during my walk to the building. Once I got into the elevator, I would have a full-on anxiety attack. Every morning I had to go into the bathroom, close the stall, and just breathe, practicing my breathing techniques that I learned from the years of yoga practice.

This was beginning to be a daily routine and I knew it was not at all normal. Why is this place making me feel this way every single day? On my lunch breaks I would take long walks and pray the entire time that I would feel like myself again. Why is this job so difficult?  My body was literally rejecting being in that space.

It all came to a head when I came home from work one day, went to the bathroom and grabbed my husband’s hair clippers. Without any forethought, I just started shaving my head. I came down to the kitchen with half of my hair gone and my husband thought I was losing my mind. I think that’s exactly what was happening. Cutting off my hair was my way of expressing that I felt lost. I look back at pictures of myself during this time and I was extremely thin. My skin was having breakouts. And although I had my beautiful daughter who was nine months old and I was happily married, I was the most unhappy I’d ever been.

The next day I went into the office, walked directly to my desk without speaking to anyone, sat down and immediately started to cry. People were asking me if I was okay, some even complimenting my new haircut. The crazy thing was, I had no idea what was wrong. All I knew was that day would be my last day there.  The stress of the job would have killed me had I stayed another day. I truly believe that.

Not long after that happened, I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with depression. Hearing him tell me what I already knew just made me feel more depressed. I decided to lean on yoga. It felt like my only option. I found a yoga studio that offered yoga teacher training and I signed up. For the next six months I spent seven hours of every single Sunday becoming a certified yoga instructor. For me, the experience was life-changing. Learning so much about my body and my spirit, I was hooked.  I couldn’t wait to share the knowledge I acquired, and in 2017, I taught my first yoga class.

Courtesy of Asia Galberth

One thing about me, I know that God makes no mistakes and that yoga and meditation fell into my life for a reason.

After about five months of teaching at different yoga studios and fitness centers around Chicago, I noticed there were little to no Black women taking yoga classes. That really bothered me. I wished more of us prioritized our mental health and really had tools to manage our stress — and I wanted to do something about it.

I created New Yoga State of Mind as a safe and relatable space that was inviting to my culture. I rented out a Black-owned art gallery in the heart of the city and every Sunday I held R&B and Hip-hop themed yoga classes. It was beautiful to see a packed room with faces that looked like me, practicing yoga together. The fulfillment that I get from teaching yoga and meditation is a reward directly from my creator. I’ve learned to stop and be present in every moment. I’ve learned that if you don’t deal with your stress, your stress will deal with you. Yoga, for me, is not just about the physical exercise. It’s a choice to live my life in a way where I can be a light to myself and others. The self-refection and accountability that I pride myself on having, I have my yoga and meditation practice to thank for that.

I now serve as a wellness workshop presenter for corporate offices where I deliver “How to Manage Workplace Stress” workshops, which are based around my personal experiences in the corporate world and the challenges I faced. The purpose is to encourage a shift in such culture in the hopes that those in charge will take a more holistic approach to their employees’ well-being.

At this point in my life, I am trying to be of service to anyone who was in my position five years ago. I wish I had a self-care and a stress relief routine back when I was struggling with my mental health and having daily breakdowns. Living my life now as a yoga teacher, stay-at-home mom and wife, I have an outlet to be creative in my ways of sharing the many benefits of yoga and meditation. I’m beyond grateful that this pivot of a career choice and cathartic practice found me.

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