This week’s Creative Review is with California photographer and yoga instructor Erin Merritt, who talks openly about her relationship with yoga, disconnecting from her mat and life’s unlimited possibilities.
What was the defining moment for you Erin, the moment that you knew yoga would be a constant part of your life?
A student recently asked me about my “yoga story”. I was a little surprised, and also intrigued by the question. I realized two things:
1. That I have a yoga narrative.
2. From the first class, to this point in my life, yoga has always felt like “home” to me.
I began practicing yoga my final year of university. I needed a “no brainer” class to fulfill two credits, and yoga seemed like the perfect compliment to my heavy course load. At the end of the 75 minutes class, I remember thinking, “this is ‘it’. I found ‘it’.” ‘It’ being the thing I knew I would do for the rest of my life.
There was a sense of belonging within my body and to myself, a welcoming on the mat. The asanas themselves felt familiar, like my body was born to move in a flow and take on the shapes. I wasn’t an “athlete” as a child; team sports intimidated me. I preferred dance and martial arts. I ran and hiked. I liked physical challenges that also expanded my mind. I believe this is what drew me back to yoga even after years of ignoring my body and long hiatus from my practice.
Would you share a little about the relationship between yoga and mind, and the affects outside pressures can have on us?
Life shifted quickly after I graduated. I married at 25 years old, had two children right away, and both my husband and I started small businesses. I spent several years after college building my photography portfolio, freelancing for studios, and was ready to transition into entrepreneurship, launching a photography business with a friend. Over the years, I’ve noticed that my relationship with yoga often mirrors the relationship I have with myself.
As with any relationship, there are lessons and insights to gain, and in yoga this can happen on or off the mat. As my life changed, so did my practice. Yoga, exercise of any kind for that matter, became a luxury of time I didn’t believe I had. I started to think that “Self Care” was selfish. I slowly let go of yoga at a time when I needed it more than I realized. Disconnecting from my body, I disconnected from myself.
After the recession hit in 2009, I was broke in every sense of the word. My marriage was ending. My ex-husband and I foreclosed on our home. My business partner and I had different creative dreams; we decided to part ways and close the studio. Again, life shifted, stripping away roles and commitments. Not only did I have the time to devote to my body and physical practice, I craved, I needed to process my thoughts and emotions in an intensely physical way. I started running. I started hiking. And I got back on my mat.
Thank you so much for speaking your truth, and sharing with us how you dug deep to the roots of your core issues. For significant change to occur we need to be brave and face our fear. What did you notice change in your life after connecting again with your body through exercise and yoga?
I’ve been practicing for 17 years now, but yoga continues to be new to me. I’m truly beginning to understand yoga as a “whole life”, integrated practice (known as the 8 Limbs of Yoga). I accept that I will always be a student, and I accept that truly anyone can be my teacher. This awareness has dramatically changed my perceptions about life, relationships and myself.
My physical practice has changed from a powerful, often heated Vinyasa style flow, to a more intuitive, nourishing and very restorative movement. When we learn to create balance within our physical bodies, we create balance within our emotional bodies. Integrating asana and yogic philosophy allows me to accept that there is infinite learning within a lifetime. As we dive deeper into the physical practice and poses, and learn to synchronize our movement with our breath, we often experience a profound impact in other areas of our life. It’s the root of the Mind/Body connection, and I find this fascinating.
What was the tipping point for you towards the final decision to become a yoga teacher?
Five years after reuniting with my practice and continual healing I decided I wanted to share yoga, to create space for others to heal themselves. I enrolled at White Foundation to complete teacher training, where I was so fortunate to meet you Natalie!
That’s right! I was late to arrive to White Lotus as I had come all the way from England! I loved training with you Erin and watching you grow and evolve then and over the last two years. What’s next for you?
We’ve had very different journeys over the past two years, but what I find amazing is that as we’ve embraced the practice into our whole lives, and we’ve evolved in ways we couldn’t have imagined possible.
There have been peaks and valleys in my practice over the years. There have been times when I’ve been devoted and consistent, times that I’ve rolled up my mat and stuck it in a dark closet. In yoga, there is no “end game”, no start or finish point. Instead, as we surrender ourselves to the ongoing practice, as we integrate these philosophies, we find balance, unending flow, and limitless possibilities. I am humbled. I am grateful.
If you are moved by Erin’s story and want to learn more you can follow her on Instagram @photoandflow
Or fancy a trip to Ventura to practise with Erin? Visit Ventura Pop Up Yoga for more details on classes and retreats that are affordable and aimed for everyone to enjoy the limitless benefits and joys of creating flow and energy together.
Natalie and Erin xx