If there's one person I can always count on to make me smile, it's Claudia.
We met through Just Be Yoga, a space where I've met some of the most incredible, awe-inspiring people in my life, and Claudia is no exception. She's someone I can always count on to make me smile, laugh, and slap some truth into me at the same time. She's masterful at making everyone she encounters feel welcomed into her community from the moment they walk in the door, and a teacher anyone would be lucky to study under.
Without further ado, Claudia in her own words.
"After eight years of walking the same path that ultimately was leading me in circles while I carried other people to their goals, I decided to leave my students and the life I had known. I was in search of something greater, something for myself and no one else. "
Who are you? What is "your story?"
My name is Claudia Edwards, I am 33 years old and the youngest of three girls. I was born and raised in Northern California in the East Bay Area. My parents divorced very early in my life, which meant my mom was raising a newborn, a 1 year old, and a 2 year old primarily on her own from the start. It has been this early example of strength, will power, and determination that has shaped many of my choices in this life and honestly has brought me to where I am today.
Growing up I was always an adventurer, I grew up in the valley not far from old farm land and orchards, nature was always just outside the front door. I spent most of my waking hours cruising around on my little red Schwinn bike, playing with friends, climbing trees, finding frogs in the creek, playing in the rain, and spending as much time outside as possible, at night I read anything I could find. My imagination and connection to nature was my company most of the time, since my mom worked and in those days "latchkey kids" were still a "thing. Being outside was my outlet, and naturally that much play lead to a huge interest in all sports. I would play for hours on end, coming home when the sun set and street lights came on.
This interest in sports and play was my outlet, and my first passion. I had to move my body daily, to be outside and out of my head. This time in my day was the only time I felt like I knew who I was, and didn't feel the worry that clouded my mind constantly.
From as early as I can remember I have always felt this worry around even the smallest of things. It wasn't crippling, I didn't have panic attacks, or anxiety-- just this constant flutter behind my heart. Worry about how I looked, about not having enough of something to share it with friends, about questions about my father, worried about my mom being happy, about things that shouldn't bother a child. I was very aware of the differences between my family and my friends families, about myself and the kids in my class. I was darker, my hair wildly curly and refused to be tamed, my clothes didn't come from the mall, I brought a sack lunch I made myself- I didn't buy meals or have a fancy box and thermos set. I was not handed invitations to birthday parties, I was not invited to sleepovers. While I didn't lack friends and playground mates-- I was also not fully integrated into social scenes. I lived on the outside edge, and I stayed there through high school.
I will not bore you with high school drama and details-- the simple fact is I have none! I was an "A" and "B" student- made honor roll every semester, had friends, and followed my love of the arts through drawing and sculpting classes. I had a decent time, nothing major really happened or didn't happen.
It was after high school that things for me changed. Right after graduation I took a two-week trial at a new Tae Kwon Do school that opened near my house with a good friend who was forced into it by her mother. This 2 week trial lead to an 11 year passion, I became the first female head Instructor of the school and taught for nearly eight years, I worked up to my third Degree Black Belt and taught about 200 students a week. I found something I loved- and I worked tirelessly to bring Tae Kwon Do into the lives of my students, to teach them the discipline, self esteem, and confidence it gave me, an outlet to drain the worry behind my heart. It changed my life and showed me how I can stop living on the outside of life and step into my power. But after eight years of walking the same path that ultimately was leading me in circles while I carried other people to their goals, I decided to leave my students and the life I had known. I was in search of something greater, something for myself and no one else.
"For the past two years my life has been a whirlwind of change, grief, and discovery. My yoga practice has been what has gotten me through it all, it's shown me how to get out of my head and into my body, to let the feelings and thoughts pass through me instead of consume me."
How did yoga fall into your life?
During this time of transition I tried out many jobs- nothing seemed to really fit or click, and they were short stints. Until I found a retailer that focused on life and work balance, that made moving your body daily not something that got in the way of your job- but was instead a celebrated part of it. It was through working for this company that I was introduced yoga in a new light. Hot Vinyasa classes soon became my new favorite workout to do with my friends. Classes were fun, lively, and the music loud. We sweat, we breathed, we left it all on the mat and left feeling renewed and strong. At some point during the first two years I started practicing yoga the "we" turned into a "me." I stopped seeking out a group to attend classes with, I started turning off my mind and listening beyond the lyrics to a song. I let in the philosophy and stories, I started to see not just my practice evolving, but my soul craving more. During this time I was living with my Grandpa and my Mom, and the bond between myself and my Grandpa grew stronger than it already was. I was set to go on a yoga retreat a 2 summer's ago to deepen my practice, but my Grandpa was struggling to get well after a series of minor surgeries and illnesses, so I canceled my plans to be home and help, he never got better.
As I sit here typing this I realized that today is the second anniversary of his passing. For the past two years my life has been a whirlwind of change, grief, and discovery. My yoga practice has been what has gotten me through it all, it's shown me how to get out of my head and into my body, to let the feelings and thoughts pass through me instead of consume me. The summer after my Grandpa passed I went on that retreat to Costa Rica, it was there that I decided that yoga came into my life for a reason, and that reason was bigger than just me. I came home from my vacation and signed up for Yoga Teacher Training with the money my Grandpa had left me to "follow my passions." From that moment on I haven't looked back, and one year later I am a registered and certified yoga teacher who teaches yoga full time. Yoga has been what I have needed all along, I just didn't know it.
My years of teaching martial arts, my years of connecting to nature, my life on the fringe of popular society, my life of feeling worry about things bigger than me, it all fits in here. It all fits into this world of yoga-- it's the fuel that feeds my classes, the experiences that have made me human, that connects me to you- the person reading this. I might not know you, but yoga allows me to feel you, and to feel for you. I've found myself through yoga in a way I never expected.
How has your relationship with your body changed over time?
I have always felt that I was different growing up. I am of so many different races and cultures that my body type is not the same as the pictures you're shown growing up. Luckily for me, I was always told I was strong, smart, brave, and beautiful by my family, so that awareness was not a bad thing for me. It allowed me to see how I looked and not judge or compare it to someone else. That being said- I was tall and lean when I was young, but during puberty I grew much heavier than was healthy for me. While I wasn't embarrassed or ashamed by it, I did want to change it- I wasn't feeling as fast as I used to be and didn't like how that felt. In high school I took a strength and conditioning class that helped me to start losing weight and get into a more healthy body composition. During my time teaching and taking Martial Arts I also started to lose more weight and get healthier, but I missed feeling strong. I started CrossFit in 2009 at a local box and really started to see my fitness and health change. I loved feeling strong again and my body responded well. I was the fittest I ever have been, slimmest I had been since my early teens, and becoming hyper aware of diet and weight as I started being more competitive as an athlete.
I noticed these changes, but was not getting anything but positive feedback for them, so I stuck with it. This was the first time I was aware that I could be walking a thin line with a body image issues, but I didn't want to stop. Life has a way of giving you what you need when you need it-- at the pinnacle of all this fitness and diet craze I was working a 30 minute commute from home.
This particular morning in December I will never forget- as it changed my whole way of thinking. I was on a strict paleo diet and made my lunch and headed out the door. My mom called me back and offered me a cupcake she had made for me to take with me as a treat. I laughed at her and said "mom- I'm paleo remember? I gotta go, no thanks" and didn't take it. I grabbed my coffee and ran out the door. 5 minutes into my ride, as I merged on the the freeway I was cut off by another car. I swerved too sharply to avoid collision, fishtailed my Jeep Liberty, sailed backward across four lanes of Monday commuter traffic, hit the center median, and flipped my car upside down. As I spun around on the roof of my car (thankfully not a single other car was hit or impacted at all) I was forced to think about how precious this life is. I walked away from that accident without a single scratch, bruise, or sore muscle, completely unharmed.
As I watched my totaled car be loaded onto the tow truck, my paleo lunch inside, I told myself as soon as I got home I was eating that cupcake my mom made with her love. From that moment on I have not lived my life based off diet, I have no scale in my house, I eat the food cooked by my loved ones, and exercise based on what my body wants and needs. If I feel uncomfortable with how I am feeling in my body I change things and check in... feeling heavy upside down, maybe I think twice about buying a cookie. But if my mom makes my birthday cake-- you better believe I'm enjoying a slice.
"I might not know you, but yoga allows me to feel you, and to feel for you."
What does it mean to you to be "strong?"
There was a time in my life that I would have said to "deadlift over 350, and get four strict muscle ups unbroken." There was a time in my life that I would have said being strong was to "break four bricks, and be able to do a 540 roundhouse kick." At this time in my life, to me being strong is having the ability to live the life you love, to stay true to who you really are. To be able to stand in your own divine power, letting go of fear and doubt . The ability to embrace vulnerability . To me being strong is a reflection of your inside, outward.
Describe the fearlessly authentic you.