My Experience With A Winding Road
I sit here at my kitchen table, at my home in Woodstock, Vermont, taking a moment to reflect on my life and how I got to be exactly where I am today… What a winding road it’s been.
My name is Nikki VanVoorhis. I live in a gorgeous little town within the Green Mountain state, my boyfriend Matt is my best friend and the kindest person I know, and our Bernese Mountain dog Raja is the fluffiest, happiest, most loving creature I’ve ever met. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not beyond grateful for this family that I have created, they are the loves of my life. Had my story not taken the twists and turns, ups and downs that it did, I would not be here writing this post for our new blog Finding Isvara, with 4 remarkable women that I respect and admire, who inspire me on a daily basis to walk this tremedously difficult yet incredible path of self exploration through yoga.
When I graduated High School, I opted out of college in favor of pursuing my dream of working in the music industry. Without any connections or even any friends in Southern California, I packed up my small town life at age 21, moved to Los Angeles, and decided to give it a go. Remarkably enough and almost as if by magic, I quickly fell into the industry and started working for some of the biggest names in music today.
Though almost as quickly as my career in music took hold, so did significant health problems. I was constantly sick, plagued by reoccurring bouts of strep throat, enlarged tonsils and tonsillar abscesses which resulted in throat surgery, mononucleosis, the list goes on. At age 23, I was diagnosed with an arrhythmia condition and underwent heart surgery almost immediately after. Expecting to make a full recovery, I was unprepared for the subsequent three years of emergency room visits, regular cardioversion, and the extreme doses of heart medication that I took daily in order to keep my condition under control… None of which worked. The unpredictability of my heart and the severity of anxiety and depression that resulted was the driving factor in my decision to give up my dream job working for rock bands and move home to be closer to family. At the time, that decision felt like the end of my world. Little did I know, it was just the beginning…
Much to my surprise, upon returning home I was fortunate to find an amazing teams of cardiac specialists that were able to correct my heart condition. Post second surgery, after years of constantly being afraid of my heart and it’s power to disarm my body, I was finally given the opportunity to start believing in my hearts ability rather than fearing it. Giving up my career in California and moving home once felt like a death sentence, though in actuality that decision gave me my life back.
Healthy heart and my new lease on life, I was absolutely clueless what I was going to do for a living. I did whatever I could in order to pay my bills, worked as a barista in a cafe, a prep cook at a restaurant, started my own house cleaning business, even dabbled in band management within the local music scene of Burlington. None of these things truly resonated with me, shockingly not even music! I had been practicing yoga for many years at that point, though almost always on my own, as I couldn’t afford to be a regular at a yoga studio. Yoga was something that I found in California, I used it as a tool to help me with the unpredictability and anxiety surrounding my heart condition. It followed me home and I practiced in my spare bedroom with free YouTube classes as my guide. Amidst the instability of leaving a career and having no clue as to where my life was going, yoga gave me something to hold on to. It provided me a sense of comfort and well being that I had never before experienced. It helped me ease into the unknown and more comfortably wait for my life to find its way. Yoga resonated deeply, helping me to accept the health conditions my body had endured, and teaching me that I was so much more than my physical being. It enabled me to piece my life back together, slowly and with a sense of ease. It showed me that no matter what I was doing, whether I was in sickness or health, whether I was happy or sad, that I could look within myself and know deep down that I was safe and okay. During this time period, I started to feel the seed of desire to help people. In what way? I had no idea… All I knew was that so many others had helped me when I was seriously struggling with my life and health. I wanted to be able to do the same for someone else.
Fast forward four years, Matt and I had been together for six months or so, he had introduced me to the Ashtanga yoga method which quickly became my daily practice. We were driving back to Vermont from New York City having a discussion about yoga and he suddenly said “Have you ever thought of being a yoga teacher?” That moment in the car hit me like lightning and I knew he was right. This was the way in which I was meant to help people. To give back what I had been given. Or to at least try.
A few months later I found myself in Miami Beach, at the Miami Life Center, amidst their 200-hour Ashtanga intensive. This program was brilliant, yet one of the hardest things I have ever done. Every day for five weeks, I was surrounded by amazingly dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioners from all over the world, practicing, studying, memorizing, teaching, reading, chanting, eating and sleeping with whatever time was left over. Those weeks in Miami were equally difficult and powerful, filled with experience and wisdom passed down to us from world renowned master Ashtangi’s. During a critique of my teaching given by Kino MacGregor, she said to me “Nikki, when you go home and you’re ready to teach, your students will be there. They will just show up. So don’t worry too much about it, they’ll come.”
And they did.
I am home. I am happy and healthy. Everyday at 8:30am, students knock on my front door, yoga mats in hand, ready to embark on their own path of self exploration. Raja greets them at the door with sloppy puppy kisses on their faces pre class, and then we all get down to work. My journey, good and bad, has led me to this very place. Their journey, good and bad, has led them to my very place. All I do is give to them what I have been given… Or… At least try.