MY TEACHING JOURNEY

 

My teaching journey is a long one. I have shared bits and piece of it over the years, but never the entire journey. I am always asked how i got my start as a yoga teacher. Because the journey has been so long i find it daunting to tell it, and only end up sharing a bit of it, but i have recently found it important to document my teaching and life journey. And although this is long, it’s even longer as there are so many in-between stories to the events. I am gradually writing about it all, maybe a biography at some point? In this post i focus on the main events that brought me to becoming a teacher and leader.

My story is unique, i think, but i do think everyone’s story is unique and interesting. Everyone should write their story down, if not for the world to see, at least for yourself. It’s very enlightening. It is a reminder of how much you’ve gone through and how far you’ve come. It’s very easy to forget and to brush it off as ‘not being much,’ or ‘not being important, ‘or ‘not being interesting,’ compared to what others have done or accomplished. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is to own your own life story. It’s empowering.

I am grateful for all of the requests i get to share my story. I am also giving myself a tap on the back for making time to write this. It was fun, and it feels really good to share it.

Anyway, here we go{a} 🙂

 

PART 1: HOW I BECAME A TEACHER 

When i was 12 years old my dad put me on a plane (all by myself) from Norway to New York to visit friends for the summer, in Upstate New York, USA. This is where i was born. We moved to Norway when i was 5 years old. My parents had experienced the American dream and my dad [in particular] wanted me to stay in touch with the country i was born in, and the country he loved so much.

Every morning during the summer my friends tried to wake me up to join them for exercise in front of the TV. I hated exercise and loved sleeping.

“Come on, they kept saying. It’s aerobics! It’s so much fun.”

I couldn’t care less and kept declining, but then i felt guilty for ignoring them and decided to join in.

It was Jane Fonda leading the exercise. I didn’t know who she was, but i immediately liked what she was doing. Aerobics combined two things i loved dearly; dance and music. It didn’t feel like sports or exercise and from that morning on, my friends never had to drag me out of bed!

On my return to Norway my mom was astonished, she couldn’t believe i was exercising. Up until then i had forced her to write in a small red school communication notebook that “Anita has to be excused from gym today.” In exchange i promised to do house chores. It worked like a charm, every time. [I wish i still had that notebook to show you.]

I soon began choreographing my own aerobics routines and gathered any VHS tapes (yes i am that old), books on calisthenics and aerobics that i could get my hands on. I subscribed to Shape magazine and had it sent to me in Norway. I cut and pasted everything i found interesting into folders and it sparked a creative side to me that i didn’t know i had.

One day my gym teacher asked me if i would be interested in leading an upcoming gym class. I couldn’t believe she asked me. Even though i was very shy and never in need of being the centre of attention; i loved aerobics so much that I said yes. I was very nervous to teach the class. I wanting to make sure it was perfect so i skipped school one day to perfect the routine. The song was YMCA by the Village People. Luckily, it was a success, at least i think it was.

This experience and the fact my gym teacher believed in me, and seemed to see something in me that i didn’t know i had; gave me the confidence to start hosting aerobics courses on my own at our local motel in the village i lived in (population 500!).

I don’t know how i was allowed to do this at 12, but my parents were super excited, people in the village showed up, and they even paid for it!! I taught what i had learned from my Guru, Jane Fonda, the books and magazine articles i had gathered. Crazy. Thank goodness i didn’t injury anyone.

Me at 12, in split pose, with my boom box and the group that joined me. Funny how we are all in yoga poses:

                     

 

My dad, who was an entrepreneur constantly fed me:
“If you have a dream Anita, go for it.”
“Do not worry, Anita. You can figure it out. Just keep at it.”

It was Mantras that were repeated over and over again throughout my childhood.

I kept renting a gym space to host my aerobics courses throughout secondary school, as well as High School. I would make handouts to my students with programs for them to practice on their own, and i would cut and paste images from magazine for my advertising. Kathy Smith and Karen Voight became my Gurus after Jane Fonda.

Exercise programs. Cut from magazine and pasted onto posters to advertise my courses (and typed on my typewriter):

  

 

PART 2: THE GAP YEAR THAT MADE ME LEGIT  

I took a gap year during High School and went back to stay with my friends in Upstate New York. I was used to working and making my own money, so it felt natural to apply for a job. I applied to a gym called New Woman, a woman-only gym chain. I couldn’t believe i got hired. I was 18 years old! This is where i learned how to teach aerobics properly, and may i add; safely. It was so much fun. I worked at New Woman for a year and then went back to Norway to finish the last year of High School, where i continued to rent gym space and offer aerobics twice a week.

After High School i went on to study at Oslo University while working at several aerobics studios and i attended two Aerobics conventions in America (in San Diego and Las Vegas). Still completely immersed in aerobics and fitness.

 

  

with fellow New Woman employees:

  

with Elaine, the manager who hired me (Bless her!):

The local newspaper in my hometown interviewed me after my year in America: 

 

   

 

PART 3: FOLLOW THE VOICE THAT DOESN’T ARGUE

During my last semester at University, a voice called out to me one evening:
“It’s time for you to move to New York, not Upstate New York, but New York City!!”

This voice is what i call The Voice; the voice that doesn’t argue. It is my intuition (my inner guidance) and it has guided me my entire life. So of course, when i graduated i packed two suitcases and left Norway for New York City with $700 in my pocket (January 10, 1994).

Moving to the “land of opportunity” my dream was to work in advertising/marketing, which wasn’t my education, but i was convinced i could start as a receptionist and work my way up in the company. No company wanted to hire me and money was running out. I had to get a job.

I figured i try waitressing. I didn’t want to, but i considered it quick money. I had also worked at the local motel in our town, so i had waitressing experience.

On my way to apply for a waitressing job at a restaurant in Union Square, Manhattan, i was about to walk down a few steps to enter the restaurant; when i hear The Voice, loud and clear:
“You don’t have to waitress, Anita.”
I turned around, thinking someone behind me said it.
“What? I don’t? But i need money!!”
The Voice repeated:
“You don’t have to waitress, Anita!”
It was my intuition, again.
Damn It, i said. Ok … I turned around and walked away because I always trust my intuition, but 20 minutes later … “What the hell do i do now? I need money!!” Manhattan is an expensive Island.

I didn’t want to teach aerobics for a living, i wanted to do it as a hobby, but since i wasn’t getting my dream job and my intuition said i didn’t have to waitress, the only other experience i had was aerobics, so i applied to the biggest NYC health clubs: New York Sports Club (NYSC), Crunch Fitness, Molly Fox Studios and Pollen Austin Fitness Center. I got hired at all of them except Pollen Austin. [I knew about this studio from Shape Magazine, and the articles i had cut out and pasted into my fitness album]. The owner (mother-in-law to Michael J. Fox!) liked me a lot but didn’t have an extensive schedule or classes for me, but was so kind to personally refer me to NYSC who had 8 gym locations around Manhattan and 1 in Brooklyn at the time.

 

Cut and Paste: Pollen Austin Fitness Center cut out from a magazine and pasted into my scrap book. Little did i know they would become instrumental to my career:

 

I wasn’t giving up on my dream job but figured i work as an aerobics instructor until i landed that dream job in advertising. In the meantime i was building a great rapport with NYSC, Crunch Fitness, Molly Fox Studio subbing like crazy. Within 6 months NYSC hired me full time with health benefits (that was huge in America. Mind you, for 6 months i was without health care. Coming from Norway that was a scary feeling).

As i got into teaching around town, i loved how i could make my own schedule, design my own routines, choose my own music and not be chained to a desk. Per class i made more money than waitressing or any regular desk job and in reality a desk job was never the right thing for me. Instead i had to sweat buckets for my money! ha ha. Maybe this was my dream job after all?

Teaching in NYC was tough, a steep learning curve. New Yorkers are neither gentle nor polite. It felt like they were throwing tomatoes at me in the beginning, but i diligently practiced my English, attended other teachers classes, paying attention to how they cued, and as i practiced, i got better and better and eventually i had a wait list for my classes.

I taught around 20-25 classes a week. It was a lot of fun, i got a lot of opportunities but it was also exhausting. I was so grateful when students asked me to train them privately. I saw it as an opportunity to not only make more money but also as a way to spare my body. I took on the offers and became a personal trainer, first at NYSC, then gradually i built my own private home client business. I was making good money and supporting myself, but after 4 years; i was physically, mentally and emotionally tired. I loved teaching aerobics and fitness, but i was feeling more and more burned out and prayed to the Universe that something else would come my way.

 

NYSC had a comment box, and this is some of the feedback i got:

  

  

 

Ambassador and Model for Everlast:

 

   

 

New York Sports Club Instructor highlight:

 

PART 4: YOGA MAKES ITS APPEARANCE

One day after teaching at NYSC at West 81st and Broadway i decided to walk home to East 75th street. On the way i passed by a dance shop and in the window i spotted a book called ‘Power Yoga.’ I felt a strong pull, like the book came at me screaming my name to buy it. I immediately ran in and bought the book.

With the book in hand, i went home and while resting my tired aerobics legs i read the book and learned the author Beryl Bender Birch was teaching classes at the New York Road Runners Club (NYRRC). I had a computer, but i didn’t have internet, yet. It was 1997 and internet access wasn’t as readily available as now. I had an executive private client, with his own company who had internet, so i asked my client to research for me. He found information about Beryl’s Power Yoga courses and we both signed up for the 6 week Beginners course of Power Yoga, January 1997. [Beryl’s Power Yoga is essential Ashtanga Yoga].

During the beginner course Beryl announced her [first] teacher training and i immediately knew i had to attend. I applied and got accepted. I can’t remember how much it cost, all i remember is i had to teach a few extra aerobics classes a week over the next 6 months to pay for it. It meant feeling more tired,but i had to do, and it’s what i wanted to do. The Universe had giving me the answer, it was now up to the student to make it happen.

 

 

With Beryl at first teacher training (left) Making an asana of myself (middle 🙂 And with Beryl in 2013 (right):

                     

When i started teacher training there wasn’t a concept of getting certified. It wasn’t until 2003 that i got a certificate.

 

I went to East Hampton, NY, June 1997 for a week to start the teacher training. I knew i was doing the right thing and it was the best time of my life. Beryl took a liking to me, told me she liked my ‘quiet confidence’ and asked if i could substitute teach for her at the New York Road Runners Club when she was away. Wow, it was a huge honour and the best start of my yoga career. I subbed for Beryl, and at NYSC i gradually exchanged one aerobics class for a yoga class until i only taught yoga classes. What a relief it was on my body. I felt like a new human being.

Ashtanga Yoga gave me a strong foundation, but when i started to feel a lot of pain in my body from the repetitive Ashtanga Practice, i felt i needed something else and started experimented with vinyasa flow. It was very challenging, but it kind of brought me back to my aerobics days and how i could use my own creativity to create my own sequences/flows. As i studied the different yoga styles I gradually found my own way to sequence a vinyasa routine by paying attention to what i liked and what felt good on my body and the feedback i got from my students and private clients.

I visited India in 1998 and had the opportunity to study at the famous Bihar School of Yoga. I have studied with many teachers throughout my journey, but books and my own practice has been my biggest teacher(s).

After years of only-yoga i started to miss the fitness aspect of my practice and started exploring fusing yoga and fitness. I noticed how my body felt even better from the cross training.

NYSC asked me to design a class called Inner Body WorkOut, a fusion class of yoga, fitness, pilates and some chi gong. It was very popular. This class has since become my Yoga Inspired Fitness routines on YouTube. I also ended up writing my first book Your Best Body Ever (McGraw-Hill 2003) sharing how to use yoga as the foundation for a fitness program at the gym. Beryl Bender Birch wrote the foreword.

It was my goal to write and publish a book, and i was so thrilled and grateful to get a book contract. I thought that writing a book would give me a professional edge and make people take me more seriously. I thought it would be the tipping point of my career, but it wasn’t at all. It made no difference at all. A few factors played a huge role. First; fusing yoga and fitness was ahead of its time in 2003, no magazine editor wanted to write about it. Second; I never had any luck with magazine editors or producers. They always seemed to want something i didn’t have. God knows i tried, but i always felt i was wasting my time trying to please people who didn’t get me. What i thought was going to be a highlight in my career ended up a big disappointment. It took me years to get over this disappointment and failure, but in the end it taught me a lot and although it feels like it was a waste of time, i am grateful for the experience. Next time around i am all the more wiser 🙂

 

 

PART 5: NO PERMISSION NEEDED 

When YouTube came around i knew it was for me. I had grown tired of being rejected by magazines and tv editors and feeling like i had to be given permission to share what i knew to be effective and real. Even at 12 years old i never asked my parents for permission to do and share what i loved. It did however take me a few years to muster up the courage to begin my own channel, and when i got started in 2010 i started by interviewing other yoga teachers. It wasn’t until my friends told me i should share what i do on a daily basis that i started making yoga and fitness videos. I was petrified. I didn’t know anything about filming, editing, how to present myself on the screen or market myself, but i always remembered my dads Mantras:

“You can do it, Anita.”
“You can figure it out.”

I learned as i went along.
YouTube has been a rewarding teaching space for me. It has been a space where i am free to do what i want to do without an editor or producers’ permission. It is a space where i feel i am seen for who i am. I have loved it from the beginning and it has given me a lot of confidence and faith in myself as a teacher.I always think thank the founders of YouTube for YouTube because otherwise you would have never heard of me, had i left it up to others to help me share what i have done over the years.

The red thread throughout my life is that i am the one to call my own shots. My clients and my students believe in me. They are the only ones i listen to, and that’s all i need and care about. I stopped chasing magazine editors and TV producers a loooong time ago. But thanks to their rejections i realised i had to trust my own flow and keep following my own flow.

 

I produced a guided Audio CD, early 2000:

     

 

PART 6: SUCCESS IS FOLLOWING YOUR OWN FLOW 

Nothing in my life has been planned. Everything in my teaching journey has happened organically. I am not the best at marketing myself. I could do much better in this department, for sure, but I am very good at trying new things, sticking with it (even when its challenging), finding a way, showing up and doing my best work. Word of mouth has served me very well.

As you can see from my journey I didn’t really choose to become a fitness or yoga teacher. I feel teaching chose me. All i have done is follow my intuition and it became a passion, something i had to do. Even though i have worked hard, i feel lucky to have turned it into a living, even with very little marketing.

Trust me when i say I have wanted to quit many times, but the Universe never lets me. Either something or someone turns up and convinces me to carry on.

I have accomplished a lot and i still feel i have only scratched the surface of what i can do. I also decided along the way to become a mother and not focus on career as much; Lars (our son) became my biggest Guru! Also after over two decades in New York we moved to London (UK) and i started all over again.

Every cycle and phase of my life has been apart of my teaching journey. Every stage has allowed me to grow as a human being and because of it i have become a better teacher.
Longevity counts for a lot. And the journey isn’t over yet 🙂

My journey has taken me to a place where i am now working on stuff i didn’t have the courage to do before. I am hard on myself, but i don’t beat myself up anymore.
It’s a journey. It’s all meant to be the way it’s meant to be. If it wasn’t, it would have been different.

I have always felt comfortable being a teacher, but not always comfortable with thinking of myself as a leader; until i read Sean Corn’s definition of a leader:

“Stepping into leadership means pulling people up with you as you rise.”

This is what it has been for me, always, without realising it. I like to help and i have always gotten immense pleasure of pulling people up with me. I am excited to continue leading in a deeper and more intentional way for many more years to come.

I have been asked a lot of questions about teaching, teacher training, private training and so on. I will be sharing another post and answering all the questions i have received. If you have any other questions, please share with me and i will add to it.

Thank you for your interest and for reading.
I hope you found my story inspirational in some way. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Love, Light & Eternal Happiness on the journey,
Anita Goa 🙂

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6 Comments
  • Michelle
    Posted at 23:34h, 14 October Reply

    Love how you shared your life’s passion for exercise and career growth with us. It is an empowering and humble story. Thank you.

    • Anita Goa
      Posted at 09:33h, 15 October Reply

      Thank you, Michelle! I have so much experience and so many stories and such a long journey, it time i share more. Thank you for reading and being interested!! Namaste 🙂

  • Ilise Williams
    Posted at 04:29h, 15 October Reply

    Hi Anita,
    So great to finally hear your whole story. I moved back to NYC in 1998 and joined NYSC on 80th. As you know I was a regular in your classes there. I was so grateful for your class because I had just started to get into yoga while I was in California. I have probably told you before but you were really my first steady yoga teacher who gave me my real foundation into yoga. I always loved your talks and your spirit.

    I feel we have traveled some of the same paths as far as having a dream and the reality of the way the dream turned out.. I was in the film industry and believe me I worked in it but it didn’t exactly turn out the way I thought it would at times. I also eventually worked in the fitness industry as it was always a passion of mine as well. “Listening to the Voices”

    I admire your tenacity and sticking to your guns even though it’s not always as glamorous as we imagine. From the day I met you and until this day you have always been someone who lifted me up and inspired me so I have always considered you to be successful and a bright light!
    It so rewarding to follow your own path and continue on it no matter how hard the world can beat you down. Sometimes it feels like it takes too long but like you said it’s a journey. I’ve learned to be more gentle with myself and grateful for all that I have experienced. Yoga and fitness has been a big part of it all. I’m soooo happy YouTube has made you available to THE WHOLE WORLD!!! :)))) SHINE ON GIRLFRIEND! NAMASTE 🙂

    • Anita Goa
      Posted at 09:31h, 15 October Reply

      Aww, Ilise, you are one of the true first Goa Flow-ers, so fully present and trusting me at the very beginning of my yoga journey. Omg, it is incredible to think about this. Sometimes i forget and it has become so important for me to keep the memories alive. Oh how i loved that time. We all supported and lifted each other. It was palpable. You should write down your own story. It is so healing and enlightening and it shows how much it is all a journey. Much love to you and i send it right back to you to keep shining on, girlfriend 🙂

  • Janie Watkins
    Posted at 18:28h, 15 October Reply

    Such a journey by one who is talented, worked hard and listened to her inner voice. I love and admire your work so much and am grateful to benefit from all that you are doing now, with the exception of being able to take your class in person. One day!

    • Anita Goa
      Posted at 08:06h, 21 October Reply

      Thank you, Janie. YES, ONE DAY!! Sending much love and light. xoxo

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