Welcome to Chime's YogaView series! Each month, I interview yoga teachers and practitioners to learn how their yoga practice is an empowering force in their lives. This month, Erika Tenenbaum, a yoga therapist and skin care specialist, tells her story of transformation, from wearing sneakers and chewing gum to her first yoga class to completing her 1,000-hour yoga therapy certification (and some juicy details in between).
1. How would you describe the evolution of your yoga practice from when you first started practicing to the present?
A true 180 degree shift. What once was all about my body and my ego has now become about my truth and balancing my mind/body/spiritual connection. I’ve gained a deep level of respect for myself, whereas in the beginning, my verbal violence was exceptionally loud. Now my inner voice is one of gratitude and acceptance. Thank God.
2. How has yoga been an empowering force in your life?
The short answer: In every way possible. The longer answer: There is such a vast reservoir of tools and tenants that yoga has under its umbrella to help an individual understand the value and purpose of his or her life. This well-packed arsenal of information and practices goes back for thousands and thousands of years, honing the ability for one to bring his or her truth to the surface. This is, of course, easier said than done. To open your mind to the “truth” is difficult and physically and emotionally painful. This awakening, when embraced, can be wildly transformative. The thing with this transformation, though, is that it’s not easy. It’s actually one of the most difficult things to face. For us to TRULY take FULL responsibility for every thought, word, and action in our individual lives is not for the faint of heart or ridged of mind. In this way. yoga is a constant practice that is always evolving and helping me to also evolve.
3. Why did you become a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist?
When I first started doing yoga I was very overweight and a bit lost and depressed. I took my first class 10 days after 9/11. The weekend after that horrible day, on a lark and from the encouragement of a friend, I went to see a psychic. “What the hell," I thought, "What do I have to lose?” Everything at that time in history was so shaken. Even though I am a skeptic, I thought a psychic may actually be appropriate. My skeptical veil completely dropped to the floor when the oracle said these words to me: “If you don’t start moving your body you’ll get cancer in your feminine regions.” That statement stuck with me. The very next day, serendipitously and unaware of my meeting with the psychic, my sister-in-law invited me to go to a yoga class with her.
I walked into my first class confused, terrified, with sneakers on, and chewing gum. It took 2 years for me to be able to finish an entire class. Alongside my struggle, the teachers would say things like: “Be kind to yourself,” and “You’re here for a reason.” As my body was being challenged I would hear these wonderfully encouraging statements and my life’s woos and worries just seemed to melt away. This is what I fell in love with. The shift the practice began to make in my mind and body was the main reason I wanted to teach and help others experience the same transformation.
The school/lineage I follow happens to be one of only 12 in the whole world that teaches Comprehensive Yoga Therapy. Although teaching in the classroom setting is wonderful, I felt it was time to take my practice further. Yoga Therapy training was the next logical move. How lucky I was to happen to be immersed in a school with the most responsible and passionate teachers. I finished my 1,000 hour training in March.
4. What are some unique ways you have incorporated yoga therapy into your work as an aesthetician?
Aestheticians are considered the doctors of the salon. The skin is a living organ and most of its issues come from within. Being a good aesthetician starts with proper diagnosis. To treat the skin properly I have to check in with the client and find out what has been going on in their lives recently. I have to find out how they have been eating and sleeping, learn about their exercise habits, what medications they take, changes in their use of products, as well as about their water intake, stress levels, etc. These factors all affect how ones skin responds to the life around it. This is exactly how a yoga therapist goes about checking in with his or her clientele. I need to ask the right questions to find out the right route to take for my client’s empowerment and enlightenment.
The skin has a unique vulnerability that the other organs don’t have. Our internal organs are protected inside the body. Although they are vulnerable, the skin has the added influence of the exposure of the external world. Our psychology is affected, like the skin, by the internal and external states of being. To my joy, my two professions come together in a perfect marriage.
5. As someone who spends a significant amount of time giving to and helping others, do you find it challenging to remember to carve out time for your own self-care? How do you find the balance between taking care of others and yourself?
This is relatively simple in theory, however, it takes, a lot of work in practice. I see taking care of people as a blessing and a privilege. Using Karma Yoga (the yoga of action) as my go to practice, I’ve learned the beauty of giving for the sake of giving. In turn, I'm able to the same for myself.
This practice took years to hone, but I’m happy to say I have a good balance today. It’s like teaching yoga. I may not feel like going that day, or I may not feel good, or I may be emotionally drained, but I remind myself of the concepts put forth by Karma Yoga: acceptance of task, concentration of task, and excellence of attitude for the task. These concepts lead me to the ability to detach from expectations. When I teach the class through the reluctance but with the backing of Karma, I then leave the class filled up once again. I feel connected and with purpose.
6. Share a fun fact. What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a proud metal head (not the screamy guttural noisy stuff). I love the really melodic thick, feverish grooves from the likes of Iron Maiden, Old school Metallica, Megadeth, Judas Priest, Motor Head, Tool, and ACDC.
I’m quite obsessed with the concept of time travel, not the fictional stuff like Back to the Future (although I love the series). I'm talking space geek stuff like back holes, the origin of the universe, how we came about. Time travel in the sense that I truly enjoy pondering the essence of the extremes (ancient earth, ancient humans, and the far future of both).
Tesla is my favorite scientist for many reasons, but for one very special reason. When Einstein (whom I hold in the highest regard) split the atom, the world changed forever. Science was taken to a whole new level. Tesla, who was a very spiritual man and a believer in metaphysics, said when the atom split: “It’s amazing that you were able to do it, but should you do it? Splitting the atom will only bring death and destruction.”
Tesla’s ability to separate his ego from his work is astonishing to me. It’s the very reason that George Washington is my political hero. When it was suggested that he should be king of the New World, he vehemently disagreed, saying: “This will be a nation of the people for the people.”