This week, I met up with an old friend named Sam. Sam and I met almost six years ago when we served in a Kentucky AmeriCorps program together. She served in Lexington and I joined halfway through the year in Covington. I just remember appreciating a friendly human at our trainings as I was the new kid on the block.
Fast-forward now six years later and I find Sam living in Cincinnati part-time and teaching yoga at Bikram Yoga Cincinnati. Since AmeriCorps, her yoga skills have taken her to Indonesia and Honduras. She’s for sure an interesting lady. What I especially love is that she chose to strike yoga poses when I took her photos.
Lexington, Kentucky; raised in Bardstown, Kentucky
So tell me a little bit about where you are in life?
We are currently sitting in a teacher housing apartment in Cincinnati. Definitely not anything I would have picked for myself or thought would be a thing. so right now I’m like getting used to being back in the United States. I’ve been traveling for a year so now it’s just kind of coming back into everything, getting used to it. it’s actually been very nice.
Very cool. so you are a certified bikram yoga instructor. and so that has been what, two years in the making now?
Yeah yeah. I went fall 2013 (to training in California).
How did you become a bikram yoga instructor? What inspired you to decide to do that?
I was living in Lexington and volunteering at a bike shop called the Broke Spoke. So we rehabed bikes, made bikes, all this stuff. So it was working for bike parts, so like sweat equity and the studio in Lexington had a free day. You could come, pay what you can. It was a by donation type thing. It was called a Karma Day. So I went and it was horrible. Oh my God it was so bad. It was so tough and I thought I was dying the entire time.
So was this a bikram yoga place?
Yeah a bikram yoga studio in Lexington. So terrible. I’m dying, I’m hot. I just gave them all my money and they’re yelling at me. Everyone looks like they’re in their underwear. Then I left and I felt amazing. It was like aw shit, now I have to do this for the rest of my life.
So you hated it while you were doing it, but then you felt … how exactly did you feel aftwards?
Just kind of clean. Totally clean. And sore.
So after that, you just kept going?
Yeah so I practiced for two years and I worked for the studio in exchange for classes. Like I would clean the carpets. So if you could imagine is a pretty dirty job in a hot studio. So I cleaned the carpets for two years and then I went to training and decided that that would be a good way of life and a good way to travel.
Have you done other forms of yoga?
It’s the first one I ever tried.
So what about bikram? What makes that the form that you want to practice?
For me, it’s a swift kick in the ass and it kind of exhausts me to the point to where I can’t do those terrible things to myself that you do in your mind where you’d obsess over things. It just cleans me out. I push my body to the point of exhaustion and my mind is just wide. And I’ve never really gotten that with anything else.
That’s cool. So for you, it’s both exercise and a form of meditation?
Absolutely more meditation.
So how often do you do bikram yoga? Is it everyday now?
So how many classes a day do you teach?
I teach two and then I take one. I’m just a puddle of sweat all the time which is why I generally dress like a single mom. It’s just the most comfortable thing.
You’re a yoga instructor! That’s great. So what’s the philosophy behind bikram yoga?
It’s the mind-body connection you get from training your breath. I think that bikram is different than a lot of yogas because it’s traditionally very militant. I don’t really yell at people and no one yells at me in class, but it’s trying to connect two very different parts of your body that are connected through your spine and breath.
So you went to California, got trained and then … when did you go to Honduras?
I went to Honduras this past February. So when I went to training, I had no plans. I didn’t want to do this full time. But when I was there, Kentucky closed down the place I worked for there. So Kentucky changed it’s mind about what was best for people in transitional care. So by the time I got back, all the kids were in Foster homes. I was going back to that job. So it was really terrible because I didn’t have any way to say bye to them. Not a good situation. So I was planning on coming back and returing to my job, and just teaching part time. But I didn’t have any job to go back to, so when I got back I just had to run with it.
How did you find the opportunity to go to Honduras?
The Internet. It is an amazing thing! It’s not just a passing fad, I guess. That was the mosy recent thing. So I came back from LA, worked at my old studio for six months and then I started traveling. So I went to Indianapolis or up here, or to Columbus, Ohio. My brother had recently left the US, and he’s the first one of us kids to leave. And I was like, oh wow, that’s pretty cool! I could do that. That’s a thing that I would like to do. So then I left and I went to Jakarta in Indonesia and taught there, and went to Bali and South Korea, and then I came back to the US. I was miserable and didn’t like being here at all. So then I left for Honduras. I found that online on a traveling teachers website.
So was Indonesia your first international experience ever?
So how long was your stint in Indonesia?
I was there for six weeks.
So what were your emotions like before you left? And taking such a long flight?
It was really long and really stiff. You know when you sit in one place for so long. But I never had any experience like that in my life and it was amazing. Like “This airplane food! This airplane food is amazing! Look at these bathrooms!” Very much like a little kid because I had never experienced anything like that. I had been on a plane once or twice. I had a layover in Tokyo, which was great. And on the way back, I got to go to Vietnam and China just on layovers. But just the concept that you can do that. In 24 hours, you can go anywhere you want!
What was the culture like in Indonesia?
I for sure had culture shock very, very badly. I don’t think I handled it very well. From the moment I got off the plane, you know, it was midnight there and for me it’s 11 am. So many different sounds, so many different smells. I knew very little Bahasa when I went there. I ended up learning quite a bit more. Just being around it, you learn so much quicker. But very confused. It was the middle of the night. Made my way to the place that I was staying at by myself. It just seemed very disorganized. They thought that I was a Japanese man who was coming. It was a comedy of errors, but it turned out well.
Do people speak English a lot in Indonesia or no?
Some. A lot of my students spoke English, but then I would have classes where no one spoke a word of English. So that was very interesting to teach those.
What would you say you learned from your time in Indonesia?
I think over the past year, the thing I’ve learned from just being on the road has been really independence. In the US, we leave home at 18. Pretty much everybody does. You think you’re independent. But just really relying on myself. Like there is nobody else that I know in the entire country. These are the things that I need. I feel like I learned … Like my expectations and what I would think are reasonable things, that’s not the way at all. So that’s kind of a very arrogant way of thinking.
Yeah you had American expectations but you’re not in America.
Yeah exactly. It was good. It was very groovy, very weird, very intense.
So after Indonesia, where did you go next?
I went to South Korea to vist my brother. So I stayed there.
He lives in Daegu. It’s about three hours from there. His girlfriend lived out there. They both teach English. So I went out there with them and that was great. It was awesome and I loved it. Then it was time for me to go home because I couldn’t find any jobs.
Did you try to find work in South Korea?
Yes. They’re very, very particular about visas. I couldn’t serve a cup of coffee without a visa pretty much. Then I came back and worked in Indianapolis. Then moved to Tennessee and it was a not so great situation at all and I ended up leaving Tennessee after nine days. It was very bad actually. I had to live in a storage closet that was the same temperature as the hot room all the time. It was terrible terrible. The woman actually riped me off very badly. She ended up never paying me.
So I came back and was like “well I’ll do what I’ve always been doing.” So I found the traveling teachers page about Honduras. I’ve always wanted to go there since I was little. My dad went there when he was a little younger than I am now. It’s always been like “What is this place about?” It’s a great mystery. It’s such a tiny country. So I was just very grateful for that opportunity. I loved it. I fell in lpve with it immediately.
Did you know any Spanish before you went?
What made you fall in love with it immediately?
It was the most beautiful place. I never could have even hallucinated anything as gorgeous as this country is. I lived in a really remote area, way up in the jungle where there is monkeys, toucans. I’m a Kentucky girl. I didn’t know about these things. It was gorgeous. I got into a lot of hiking and white water rafting down there. Just was a beautiful place.
So did you experience as much culture shock in Honduras?
No no. Not so much no. And I think maybe that was because one, it’s a lot closer. Two, I knew more about what I was getting into I think. My mindset was a lot better. I feel like I properly knew how to take care of myself. I had been living on my own for quite some time. Just wandering.
And it wasn’t your first International experience.
So it was easier to manage.
For sure. That was an amazing experience, there just wasn’t that much opportunity there. I’m really glad that I went. I would love to go back. I had a very difficult time leaving. I cried my eyes out as soon as I got into the taxi. So heavy-hearted for sure.
Did you live in the Ecolodge?
Yeah I lived in kind of this little treehouse. It was above this kitchen where all the guides stay at. So I loved it. I got used to sleeping in it. Imagine a treehouse-type deck thing with screens, so I very much was outside all the time. Now I have trouble sleeping inside.
So now you are living in Cincinnati part time and you have a job at Cincinnati Bikram Yoga and you teach classes there how many days a week?
Five days a week. I teach two classes a day. When I came back, I worked in Lexington’s studio and then just lived in the back of that studio, which was very nice and convenient. Then I went to Columbus and taught for six weeks. Now I’m here. I would like to go back to Kentucky, there’s just not so many opportunities there right now.
So do you want to do anything with social work?
Yeah that’s what I want to get back to.
So what do you see more as the long term vision?
I try to take it as it comes, I guess. There are things that I hope for and things that I would want, but as I’m getting older, I’m realizing that that’s not always the way things turn out. So if I had my druthers, I would spend my time doing what I was doing before: social services-type work in Lexington and then teach part time. That would be the goal. That would be amazing.
But now you’re just hanging out up in Cincinnati and they’re paying you. Might as well take the job.
It’s a really great studio up here. I’m really thankful to be up here. Good folks up here.
Yeah tell me about the studio? How long have they been around?
I want to say maybe five years. The owners just changed hands. I worked here for like a week before. But they just changed hands and that’s why were having an open house.
So how did you get connected with them? Friends?
Yeah it’s a pretty tight-knit network. I visited a bunch of times because a friend of mine used to teach here. This is the one closest to Lexington, so I’ve been here a bunch of times just passing through. There’s a website that kind of hooks people up.
So what made you want to get into social work?
I enjoyed AmeriCorps. I was in school for journalism at the time and I joined AmeriCorps, which is where I met you. My first year there in state and national at United Way of the Bluegrass and was a decent job. I didn’t feel like I could take on the capacity of such a big city as Lexington at that time. I grew up in Bardstown, so I was just driving back and forth. It was a lot of driving, so I moved there and did another year of AmeriCorps.
Is there a certain population you want to work with?
I really enjoyed the populations I’ve worked with in the past, which have been marginally-housed folks in the state of Kentucky. That’s where my hearts at. That’s what I want to do.
What is it about that population?
I don’t know. I fell into it and fell in love with it. That’s how these things go.
What do you find most challenging about that type of work?
It breaks your heart every day. I say that with a laugh, but it really does. I feel like if it doesn’t, you’re probably not so well-suited for that job.
So you grew up in Bardstown. What was life like growing up in Bardstown?
I am very happy that I grew up there. I was born in Lexington. My parents had three kids there. Then we moved to Bardstown because it was a better place to raise a family, smaller communtiy, things like that. They had two more kids there, so five total. We lived out in the country.
What are you most passionate about?
I don’t know. I just feel lucky to be alive, honestly. I feel like most things I do are pretty full-on. I feel like I have the best job in the whole world. I’m very passionate about that.
What does being a woman mean to you?
Oh my! I don’t know. I don’t know if you can place a definition on it. Certainly not on the appearance. Like you and I are both women, but we look very different.I don’t know, maybe someone can explain to me what it means to be a woman.
What has been your proudest moment?
The proudest moment I ever had was when I was in Korea and I was with my brother who lives there and a couple of our friends. There was this mountain. I didnt think I would ever be able to do it ever. It wasn’t something I thought I was going to do at the beginning of the day, or middle of the day or about 10 pm when we were still doing it. There’s no way I ever thought that I could do that. It exhausting and very mentally challenging.
What do we need more of in the world?
She got out her phone and played the Youtube video “What the World Needs Now is Love” by Dionne Warwick. A very fitting way to end the interview.