As a teacher, I'll sometimes walk into a class, land my eyes on a new student, and think to myself, "It's no mistake that they're here." Kylie is one of those students. From the moment I met her, I was captivated by the intention, gratitude, and excitement in her presence. Every movement on her mat carried with it respect for both the practice and herself, and off the mat she wore a smile that made all the other new students feel just as welcome as she appeared to be. Kylie was exactly the kind of person you want in a sangha, someone who lives, breathes, and manifests community.
Kylie and I, along with another special yogi practicing at my Santa Cruz classes this year, began a mentorship. As a group, we study yogic philosophy and sacred texts, explore self-growth together, and create a sacred space to come together in community once a week. It's been a magnificent experience, and it's allowed me to better understand what makes Kylie so special. As I've told her myself, and as you'll soon understand, I see Kylie as a true warrior of light: someone passionate, driven, and hopelessly in love with the idea of a better world through her words and actions.
Without further ado, Kylie in her own words.
"I had no idea who I was beyond that simple noun: dancer."
Who are you? What is your story?
I’m not quite sure where to start, so I guess I’ll go from the beginning! I was born in a suburb about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, California, that is not known for much besides an amusement park and a Netflix series about zombie soccer moms. I grew up in a loving household and enjoyed the perks that come with being an only child, despite having three older brothers. The youngest of the three is fourteen years older than me, so needless to say, they had better things to do than stay home and play with their baby sister. I didn’t mind too much, though, being that I got all of my parents’ attention. I guess having the spotlight on me from the very beginning contributed to my childhood dreams of being a performer and inspired my mom to put me in dance classes.
From a young age I loved moving my body, especially when there was music involved. As I got older, my passion for dance grew along with the time I spent in the studio. Despite being a good student, I never felt quite right at school with the other kids, so the dance studio became my sanctuary. No matter what kind of day I had, I knew I could go to the studio, leave behind the outside world, and dance my little heart out. This became especially crucial when my oldest brother passed away from a drug overdose a week before I started the seventh grade. With the social pressures of junior high at school and a grieving family at home, I spent as much time in that safe space as I could. Bad test grade? Take a jazz class. Friends acting too cool to be seen with me? Hip-hop will solve that. Mom can’t get off the couch? How about a lyrical combo? Without even noticing, I made dance my drug. It was a quick fix for my problems and allowed me to avoid the pain knocking on my door. By the time my sophomore year of high school rolled around, I was a full-fledged junkie. I packed my schedule full of whatever classes I could take. When that wasn’t enough, I took a position as an unpaid choreographer’s assistant for a woman who took advantage of me, just so I could spend more time at the studio. I never went to football games because they interfered with ballet. I missed family gatherings to go to rehearsals. I lost sleep at night finishing up homework that I had to put off because of competitions. The few friends I had outside of my dance team were always mad at me for blowing them off and my parents began to question the lack of balance in my life. I even took to an extremely restrictive diet that eliminated all carbs including fruits, despite my high level of physical activity, to achieve what I believed to be “a dancer’s body.” I was in so deep, I couldn’t even see how unhealthy my lifestyle had become.
Then one morning, a thought popped into my head. “Who am I?” I asked myself. My knee-jerk answer was “a dancer.” But I knew as soon as I said it that something was off. “Okay, but what else?” I prodded. And I just sat there drawing a blank. I had no idea who I was beyond that simple noun: dancer. Over the course of the next few months, as I continued to dance 6+ hours a day, I couldn’t get this concept out of my head. This thought eventually became so consuming and disturbing that I knew I needed to do something about it, so in the summer before my junior year, I finally made the decision to take a break.
Taking a break from dance sounds simple enough, but you must understand, stepping away from dance for me was comparable to an avid drug-user quitting cocaine cold turkey. The place I went to hide away from the big bad world was ripped out from under me. The girls I spent every day with stopped talking to me. I no longer had an excuse to starve my body of vital nutrients, but I couldn’t eat anything without exercising my body to exhaustion or feeling immense guilt. And on top of all this, I didn’t have a clue who I was. I fell into a depression that made it hard to get out of bed in the morning and made my favorite part of the day going to sleep at night. I laid on the floor and cried each night feeling worthless. I became so self-conscious that social situations made me freeze up and fall silent. This pushed my friends away and made me feel utterly alone. My internal dialogue echoed with screams about how much I hated myself and my body. I couldn’t see any light...
...Thank the Universe that there was a woman who could. My mom saw how much pain I was feeling as I grieved the loss of my identity and began to face the world without my buffer. She let me cry it out for awhile and then she put a book in my hands. The book was called Spirit Junkie by Gabrielle Bernstein, and it was about a teenage girl like me who never felt like she fit in, found an unsustainable way to make the world seem less harsh, and found herself at the bottom of a pit. For Gabby, the way out of this pit was discovering her spirituality. She spoke of how discovering the power she had over her own thoughts and mind led her to a brighter, happier life without the need for anything external. I knew her words were exactly what I needed to hear. Her book launched me toward a library of books about mentality and spirituality, including The Four Agreements and The Alchemist, which I devoured that Spring. I used her guided meditations to fall asleep each night and repeated her words in my head on the way to school in the morning. She told me to listen to my “ing,” the little voice in my head that spoke only of love, and to drown out my “ego”, whose only intentions were to make me anxious, lonely, and insecure. She taught me that the secret to handling anything life throws at me with grace is to choose to see only through love and that I had start by seeing myself through the this lens. I took her advice, and low and behold, it actually worked. Each morning, I chose happiness over sadness, light over darkness, and love over fear and I found myself growing more content, radiant, and compassionate toward myself and others each day.
I began seeking out ways to further my spiritual practice-more habits to lift my spirits- and I was pointed, with red, flashing arrows, to yoga. I was aware that many dancers turned to yoga as a way to improve their strength and flexibility without the pressures of dance teachers breathing down their necks. I reasoned that yoga was a natural progression for a competition dancer to escape the competition world but stay in shape. I had no idea how narrow my view of yoga was. When I began taking classes, one of the first things I noticed was how wonderful it felt to move my body again. I developed a special love for the music and dance-like flow of Vinyasa. However, I was not using yoga as an escape for my problems like I had used dance. Instead, I brought my issues to my mat, set an intention that helped me to wrestle with them throughout my practice, and left class feeling more equipped to handle them in the outside world. In class, I watched my body in the mirror, and instead of criticizing it, I began to feel wonder and pride for the feats my body was accomplishing. Slowly, over the next two years, I began to skim the surface of yogic philosophy. However, it wasn’t until I moved away from home to study at UC Santa Cruz that I began to take yoga more seriously and make it a regular part of my life. Along with taking up a consistent asana practice, I began implementing concepts such as ahimsa, brahmacharya, and namaste into my day to day life. Yoga now means so much more to me than an exercise regimen that I can wear my lululemons to. Yoga is my lifestyle. I am now in the process of deepening my understanding of the yogic teachings and I hope to one day teach classes of my own to spread the joy yoga has brought into my life with others.
"Yoga now means so much more to me than an exercise regimen that I can wear my lululemons to. Yoga is my lifestyle."
Tell me the lowest or darkest point in your life. Tell me the happiest point in your life. Now tell me the connection between the two: how did “rock bottom” become a foundation for success?
In the fall of 2015, I hit my rock bottom. At my lowest point, I felt alone, purposeless, and pathetic. I spent my waking hours wishing I was asleep and wallowing in self-pity. In an attempt to take some control back over my life, I became obsessive over the food I put into my body and made those around me miserable with my incessant label scrutinizing and bad attitude due to deprivation. I refused to listen to family and friends who were concerned about my eating habits, weightloss, and decline in health by writing them off as being jealous of my self-discipline and slim physique. I felt disgusting when I didn’t “eat clean” and I often stood in front of the mirror to punish myself. I told myself I was weird and antisocial and that I could never be myself if I wanted to fit in. Besides, I didn’t even know who I was in the first place. I was selfish and unappreciative of my parents’ love and support and I pushed them to the backburner even though they always put me first. I ragged on myself incessantly, but I failed to change the person who I felt so much hatred for. I convinced myself that the voice in my head that was putting me down was the voice I deserved to hear.
The following Spring and Summer were the setting of some of my happiest moments thus far. I began journaling about what and who I was grateful for. I began making lists about what I loved about myself. I began practicing self-care. I started going to yoga. And as I made these subtle changes in myself, I noticed the world around me changing too. I began emitting a more positive energy which attracted more positive people and experiences. I became friends with a group of empowering women who lifted other girls up instead of smashing them down to boost their own egos. I strengthened my relationship with my family. I learned to appreciate the sunshine and the clouds and began spending more time outside. I fell in love and began a healthy, passionate relationship with someone who adores and respects me.
It is no coincidence that the lowest and highest points of my life are only a few months apart. At my lowest of lows, I grew so sick and tired of the toxic internal and external life I was manifesting that I knew my only choices were to waste away or devote myself to a rewiring of my brain. It took magnificent sadness and impenetrable darkness to transform myself into a seeker of the light. My first quarter of college I took a psychology and religion class in which the professor described the need to enter “a sacred bat cave” in order to undergo a spiritual experience that leaves one with a renewed sense of connection, wholeness, and purpose. My time in my own personal “sacred bat cave” catalyzed my awakening to a life where I could find joy in the tiniest moments, love myself unconditionally, and face the world around me and the people in it with compassion. I believe the reason the season following this transformation was such an incredible high for me was due in part to the contrast between the darkness I had emerged from and the light I was basking in. The happy life I lead today is a continuation of that season of the flood of light. Yes, I still have days where I find it harder to put a smile on my face, but most days, with the help of yoga and the memories of my emergence from the pit, I remember that my mindset is my choice, and I choose to live in the light.
"It took magnificent sadness and impenetrable darkness to transform myself into a seeker of the light."
What does it mean to you to be strong?
When I hear the word “strong”, the first word that pops into my mind is “vulnerable”. To me, the strongest people are those who are willing to strip away all of the masks and shields that are protecting them, and expose themselves to the world. They are honest with themselves, even when the truth ain’t too pretty, and are honest with the world about who they are and what they came here to do. They don’t shy away from pain, but welcome it in with open arms asking “what can you teach me?” They breathe through their struggles and losses. They celebrate their victories, no matter how small. They remain fully present and bask in the sunshine that is being alive. They aren’t afraid of others seeing their raw humanity. They feel and laugh and cry and scream and jump for joy with all of their might. And in turn, they encourage others to be vulnerable and honest and unapologetically themselves as well. They do not seek out the weakness in others to come out on top. Instead, they use their strength to lift up others and acknowledge the strength in unity.
"To me, the strongest people are those who are willing to strip away all of the masks and shields that are protecting them, and expose themselves to the world."
Describe the fearlessly authentic you.
I am a woman who prefers earnesty to sarcasm. I like to make my words count and small talk bores me. I love diving in deep, asking the big questions (especially the ones without answers), and getting people talking about the moments that make their eyes light up and their hearts beat a little faster. I also love being goofy and playful, whether that means talking in silly voices or running around big, open fields with the wonder of a child. I am very one track minded, and those who know me know I cannot focus on two things at once. However, since that one person, that one moment, that one idea, or even that one bug crawling across the sidewalk gets my full attention, I put my entire being into everyone and everything I encounter. I love passionately and unconditionally and would do anything for my loved ones. I am smack in the middle of being an extrovert and an introvert. I love being around people-they energize and inspire me-but lack of sufficient alone time leaves me feeling depleted and off center. I am empathetic to the extreme and I can put myself in nearly any persons shoes. This can be to my demise when I forget how to take my own side, but I most often find it extremely gratifying. I have a hard time sitting still, but I’m learning to see the value in tranquility. I love animals and believe dogs to be angels with scruffy eyebrows and tails. I am more intuitive than sensate so I’m the last person you want giving you directions. However, if you want to talk crystals and chakras, I’m your girl. I navigate the world through gut feelings and I take every little thing the universe throws at me as an omen. I am a hopeless romantic and I don’t think there is ever such thing as “too late.” I love learning and growing and I view the world as one big classroom with an endless amount lessons to teach me. I long to see as much of the world as possible in my lifetime and I will do all I can to be the change I wish to see in it.