(*This post was originally written in May 2017 and has been updated in April 2022)
Every story has a beginning… and this is mine. It’s something I’ve been hesitant to share because let’s be honest, it’s very personal. But as I reflect on this past decade of my life, I felt that it was important to share how yoga has shaped who I am today and how it was the catalyst to so much personal growth.
Whether you’ve been following “Headstands and Heels” since it’s inception or if you’re brand new to my page, I’m so happy you’re here. I’m truly honored to share my story with you.
Without further adieu, let’s begin.
Chapter 1: Heartbreak and Healing
How It All Started
It was July 2013. I had just turned 24 years old and my life had simultaneously turned upside down with it. My dog, a feisty and loving Dachshund of thirteen years, had passed away from heart complications just five days after my birthday. Only two weeks after that, I came to find out my fiance had cheated on me. After calling off the wedding and breaking off my relationship, I was left completely broken.
I’m honestly not sure why I decided to go to my first yoga class. Regardless of the reason, I found myself at a local studio and after an intense flow, cried so hard during savasana that I’m sure the other classmates thought I was a complete weirdo. Despite the outpour of emotion (or maybe because of it) something inside of me lit up that day.
Why I Started Posting on Instagram
After that day in the studio I started following a few inspiring yogis on Instagram including Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl), Laura Kasperzak (@laurasykora) and Kerri Verna (@beachyogagirl). I was in awe of the physical strength and flexibility that these yogis possessed but more importantly loved their positive messages of self-love and empowerment. They just seemed so incredibly happy and I wanted that for myself.
After about 8 or 9 months of following from a distance, I decided to create my own yoga centric Instagram account where I could participate in daily challenges and document my progress. @MelYoga1 was never meant to turn into a blog. And I think that’s the incredible thing… this one small step was the beginning of something bigger that I couldn’t even fathom at the time.
How It Helped Heal My Heart
I used my yoga practice as a physical outlet for stress and to channel my emotions in a positive way — but more importantly the time spent on my mat was also one spent in prayer. I attribute the healing of my heart to God, not yoga, but yoga was the vehicle that He used to help me through a tough time in my life. And for that I’ll be forever grateful.
Practicing yoga daily helped me become more self-aware. The positive affirmations and mantras pushed me to focus on the many blessings I had in my life instead of lingering on negative thoughts. Self-love and mindfulness were the themes of my first few months of practice and they have carried through in a different capacity ever since.
Chapter 2: Moving to New York City
How My Practice Changed
December 2013, I met a man at a random bar in Brooklyn during an even more random visit with one of my girlfriends. Needless to say, we hit it off really well and it wasn’t long until we were in love. Bay (no, not b-a-e) and I dated long-distance, alternating visits to NY and FL respectively each month for a little over a year. Then in May 2015 I decided to make the move from a small beach town to the Big Apple for my career and for love.
Transitioning from the laid back lifestyle of Florida to the hustle of the big city was not an easy task. My first post-college job at a social media boutique agency allowed me to work from home every day and suddenly I found myself working at a global PR firm on the 19th floor of a skyscraper in Manhattan. My yoga practice came to a screeching halt for a good 5 months and I was considering deleting my Instagram account altogether.
Why I Started My Blog
Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Instead a few colleagues of mine who happened to be bloggers convinced me to turn @MelYoga1 into a yoga and lifestyle blog the summer of 2016. After some serious thought, Headstands and Heels was born, and with it a reignited passion for yoga.
I started making a point to get on my mat and practice after work a few times a week at home. Eventually I joined ClassPass and started attending various yoga studios in the city. I was incredibly excited for the small physical changes I started seeing as a result of a routine practice and other fitness classes worked in. It wasn’t long before I started to work with brands and more importantly, started to connect with various fitness enthusiasts. I honestly have to say that’s my favorite part about this entire yoga journey. The relationships I’ve made along the way have been invaluable and have kept me sane when life is the most chaotic.
Chapter 3: Yoga Teacher Training
What Inspired Me To Pursue My Certification
After nearly 4 years of practicing yoga on my own, I realized that I was craving the opportunity to go beyond sharing it on a screen. As much as I love solo practice, I get the most joy when I practice with other people. I love the feeling of walking people through a flow, demonstrating how to correctly do a pose, and watching their faces light up when they do something they’ve never thought they’d ever be able to do before.
The feeling that I needed to take my practice to the next level had been lingering inside me for over a year. That’s why on New Year’s Eve 2016, I made it my resolution to make it happen.
Yoga Vida 2017
I debated doing my training in some place tropical but in the end decided that staying in NYC was the right decision for me. After some extensive research, I opted to do my 200 hr YTT program at Yoga Vida. It was one of the first yoga studios I practiced at after moving here. I really love the style of teaching, the airy studio space in Dumbo, and the fact that it lacks the pretentiousness that some other studios tend to get.
When I saw that they were offering a Summer Intensive, I went straight to my boss to see if my job would be willing to let me take the month off. I’m so incredibly grateful that they did and was sure I’d return to work with a new sense of invigoration in July.
After speaking with the kind folks at Yoga Vida, I officially enrolled and immersed myself through the 200 hours of training. If you’re curious about my time in YTT, I shared 5 of the most important things I learned from my experience in this blog post.
Chapter 4: Taking Headstands & Heels Full Time
After taking that month off work to get my teacher certification, I kept my promise and returned to my job as a digital strategist at the same PR firm. Outwardly everything seemed the same. Internally, a new spark had been ignited and with it a desire to pour more time and energy into Headstands & Heels whenever I wasn’t at work.
This meant waking up at 6am to create content before heading into the office and staying up late to knock out blog posts, answer H&H emails and do brand work. But I was determined to hustle as much as I could to see what would happen.
In May 2018, after much thought and a few emotional breakdowns, I decided to take the leap of faith to leave my traditional career and pursue entrepreneurship full time. Now, 4 years later, I can officially say that was the best decision I could have ever made for myself.
Being a full time “influencer” has come with it’s fair share of ups and downs. However I can say with full confidence that the highs have absolutely outweighed all of the lows. This job has brought me so much fulfillment, opened doors to opportunities I could never have imagined possible, and has connected me to so many incredible, inspiring people.
How my practice changed
After going full time with Headstands and Heels in 2018, my yoga practice shifted. I still kept a home practice and it will always be the foundation of my love for movement and mindfulness. However, between 2018-2019 I fell in love with the boutique fitness scene in NYC. This was inclusive of yoga studios but I also loved mixing things up with cardio dance, sculpt, barre and more. Physically, I was in the best shape of my life and emotionally I was gaining more confidence with both my online career and how I could still share my love for teaching in person during various events.
It was the best of both worlds and I enjoyed the flexibility of teaching when it was on my own terms rather than within a studio.
What’s To Come
As I wrap this post up I’m overwhelmed with emotion. This journey that started with so much pain nearly a decade ago has truly changed me — in every possible way. Here I am, editing this post from my home in Denver. I’m married and have two rescue pups who I love dearly. I recently signed on with a new management agency and my Marketing Assistant, KellyAnne, just passed her two year mark of working with me. I’ve taught yoga classes during some incredible events for brands like Adidas and MindBody and just taught yoga at my first co-hosted wellness retreat last month.
And it’s humbling to know that this all started because I decided to step into that yoga class all those summers ago.
I don’t know exactly what’s to come but I do know that I’m so incredibly grateful for the messages, comments and conversations I’ve had with so many of you through these years. You are the reason why I’m able to do what I love and knowing that I have been able to help inspire, motivate and encourage a few of you to make positive changes in your own lives is 100% the biggest motivation I have to continue this career.
So thank you. Thank you for supporting me, many of you from the very beginning of this journey. I’m forever grateful and excited to continue sharing pieces of my story with you as it continues to unfold.
With lots of love,
Loved this post and so excited for you, Mel!! Can’t wait to follow your journey!! Much love!!
Xo Fran ❤️❤️
I’m SO excited for you — the June intensive last year was amazing and I loved being fully immersed into YTT. Can’t wait to read / hear all about it ❤️
Lovely to read your story Mel. Hope to see you soon in Paris XO
I’m just wrapping up my 200 hr ytt and stumbled across your blog! very inspiring! so happy for you! I’m going to follow Your journey now. maybe yours will inspire and influence mine. we have many similarities. xoxo