Year One of My Yoga Journey

Guest Post by Michelle Gonzales

Hi Yogis!

I am so honored to be able to share a little about me and my yoga journey with you today. My name is Michelle Gonzales. I am recently engaged, I work as an Associate Marriage and Family therapist at a nonprofit, I love my dogs, food, my family, my friends, Harry Potter weekends and all things cozy (hot drinks, fireplaces, snow and fuzzy socks just to name a few).  I am also a recovering perfectionist, slightly bossy, anxious and self-critical at times.

This month is my 1 year yogaversary at OTY and I am so excited to reflect on how far I have come and see where else it takes me. I stumbled on OTY when my former professor (current friend) invited me to join in on a Sunday yoga session Desiree was hosting for one of her classes. I have always enjoyed yoga and wanted to take classes but never found a studio I wasn’t completely intimidated by. I always worried about being judged because I didn’t know the names of all the poses or how to do them perfectly. About 10 minutes into the class with Desiree, tears started to flow. All of the stress and anxiety that I had been holding in my body was able to find some release and Desiree’s words about taking chances and self-belief poked me in a sore spot, right where I needed to be poked.

After that first class I probably came 8 times in my 2 week trial. I loved having an hour just to focus on me and cry in savasana if I needed to. I am not going to lie, when it came time for the commitment I was hesitant to continue. I knew I needed to continue for my sanity but my self-doubt made me question if I really did “need” it. I am all about the bargain so the year commitment made the most sense but then my critical self-talk made its way to the forefront. “You won’t stick to it.” “You never stick to anything fitness related.” “You’re just going to waste money.” I managed to shove those thoughts down, with the help of my friends and fiancé, and decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did.

So much has happened and changed for me since my start at OTY a year ago. In class, being nonjudgmental of ourselves is something that is spoken about in every class and it always makes me cry. A year later and I still get teary eyed. Yoga has brought to light how much I judge and compare myself to others around me. How I have a difficult time being content in being a work in progress. It has shown me what true self-care is, not the fake version I had been telling myself was good enough. I found value in what my body can do instead of what it looks like. Don’t get me wrong, I still judge my body’s appearance and nit pick every tiny flaw I manifest in my mind.

I am still quite a work in progress in that area but yoga showed me there is more to a body then how it looks in a bathing suit. I have seen my body gain strength and flexibility. I have gained a deeper understanding of my body’s needs and messages. Now I not only realize when my body needs rest, but I listen to it, because I find so much more value in being attune with myself instead of “hustling,” “grinding,” and trying to meet unrealistic goals. So many of us get into yoga as a form of physical fitness, which was 100% true for me. What I have come to learn is yoga has shown me more about my mental fitness and my self-value than anything physical. It has exercised my openness, my willingness to be vulnerable and honest as well as my ability to be authentic with myself. It has made me more generous with myself and increased my flexibility in my self-imposed expectations.

Writing this and sharing with all of you is scary and something I never would have done a year ago. I look forward to the next year of this journey and what I will be reflecting on in year 2. As part of my personal self-care, I decided this year to forego making any New Years resolutions but instead to set intentions for myself; flexible achievements that focus on growth instead of rigid expectations. I want to begin developing an at-home yoga practice that feels good to me. I want to continue to build strength and flexibility in class.  I also want to work on replacing the self-critical thoughts with care and compassion. I am proud to say I am a work in progress. Messy and imperfect, but there is magic in the mess and I am grateful for every hard, messy, magical moment. That is where the lessons are.

 Thank you fellow yogis for being accepting of everyone who walks into class and thank you OTY teachers for creating a safe space to mess up, grow, learn and cry in savasana.


With Abundant Gratitude,



Perceptions are a funny thing. It has been said that “perception is reality” and for many of us, that is the truth…until we realize that it is not.  Perception is actually a filtered reality.  It is filtered through our past experiences, environment, previous night of sleep, hunger levels and a variety of additional factors.  I recently spoke with a friend about a post we both saw on social media. We found that it triggered emotions in both of us, but they were very different from each other.  Our emotions and perspectives felt much like reality, but the reality was that the post had nothing to do with either of us.

When we opened the new space in our studio we decided that the rooms needed names to help differentiate them.  A couple of the teachers brainstormed ideas for room names and decided on the “Coral Room” and the “Teal Room,” based on the colors of their rear accent walls.  To provide some background, the original space has a coral mandala on the front wall and a teal accent wall to the rear, whereas the new space has a teal mandala on the front wall and a coral accent wall to the rear.  During class, the teachers normally face the rear accent wall, while the students face the front mandala.  


With that said, the students were royally confused over the chosen room names.  They assumed the names would be based on the respective mandala colors because, well, that’s what they see during each class.  Had the students chosen, the names would likely be opposite, yet still made perfect sense.  Neither way is right or wrong, they’re just a different perceptions of the same thing.


“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
-Albert Einstein


I think we all know and believe this deep down, but it can be challenging to remember when your perceptions don’t align with the perceptions of those around you.  It’s easy to slip into the belief that you are right and “they” are wrong, when in fact, neither is true.  Consider this next time you experience miscommunication, misunderstanding or any such conflict.  We are all approaching life in the ways that we know how, and it is rarely from the same perspective as those around us.  Thankfully, simply being aware of this fact can change everything.

Vicktor Frankel says “Between stimulus and response is a pause and all our power lies in that pause.”  The longer the pause, the greater your power.  Pause.  Look at your perception.  Remember that it is likely not reality, and then act accordingly.

An Unqualified Blogger Blog

If asked, the vast majority of people would agree with the statement “anything is possible.”  It’s likely that you believe this.  But do you believe this for YOURSELF?  It’s likely the answer is “no.”  Why is this?  To be honest, I don’t know why we tend to be self-doubting, deprecating haters of ourselves.  Sadly this is the default mindset for most.  It’s a huge undertaking to change this mentality, but a worthy one that pays high dividends.

When I started college, I wanted to be a high school counselor and knew all the steps needed to achieve it.  I worked my way through my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, but in the back of my mind I doubted that I would ever actually become a guidance counselor.  I started half-heartedly applying to counseling jobs and experienced the most brutal interviews that make me cringe just thinking about them.  Afterwards, I would rush home as quickly as possible, curl up in a fetal position and cry my eyes out. 

I had all the credentials to do the job and would have been a damn good counselor, but all I could think of was how I didn’t speak enough Spanish, or didn’t have enough experience, or didn’t have enough connections, and so on.  I was blinded by all the things I didn’t have and that attitude stood out like a sore thumb to my interviewers.  I eventually got a related job, but it was not what I set out to do, nor was it in the setting I had always dreamed of. 


“If I had always done what I was 'qualified' to do, I'd be pushing a broom somewhere.” 
Naval Ravikant

When I set out to become a yoga teacher, I had learned a lot about the power of mindset and began to tell myself daily, “I am a yoga teacher.”  As I repeated this, my actions followed.  If I am a yoga teacher, what would a yoga teacher do?  Practice and teach yoga!  I was far from “qualified” to teach a group class, but I did it anyway and guess what? I survived!  In fact, began to thrive, and only got better and braver. 

Similarly, I was far from qualified to open a business, especially a yoga studio.  In fact, I am still not qualified to be doing most of what I am doing.  I am extremely unqualified to write, given that English was my worst subject and still have a vile relationship, with, commas.  However, here I am.  Writing…teaching…running a business…excitedly dreaming of what else I am not qualified to do because, you can bet your ass, that's exactly what I am going to do next.  What are going to do next?  It should be exactly what you feel unqualified to do.

A Studio Is Born

Well, it’s official. We have expanded. It’s incredible how that sentence is only three words long. Those three words don’t even scratch the surface of what we’ve gone through to make it to this point. Part of me wants to say that very few people can understand what we have overcome to make it to this point, but that’s not true. In actuality, there’s a large group of people out there who unknowingly, know exactly what we have endured. If you are a parent (especially a mom), with two or more kids, then you know.

Our original opening was in many ways, much like having our first child. It came with a mixture of nervousness, anxiety, loads of questions, but mostly excitement. Nothing can prepare you for what you’re about to experience. You have preconceived notions of how you will be as a parent, so naively, you prepare exclusively for delivery day. When it comes, a startling realization sets in just a matter of hours after your baby is born. THIS IS JUST THE STARTING LINE. All the preparation, anxiety, anticipation and excitement is only the tippy top of a massive iceberg.

The first few months are grueling; joyful, but grueling. Very gradually, this new gig begins to get easier, and you slowly forget the difficult things: pregnancy, labor, recovery, being the MVP on #teamnosleep, nursing, yellow poop, constant baby vomit, I could go on. Forgetting these things can be easy because of the joy this little person brings to your life.

Then one day you think, “we should have another one.” Or maybe you don’t and it just happens unexpectedly. Either way, the reality of the “second round” sets in much more quickly. The excitement is still there, just overshadowed by the full understanding of what is to come. You don’t have a choice though. The deed is done and resisting your inevitable future is futile. This time however, your attention is divided between tending to your first one and preparing for the second. Although your first experience prepares you for some things, a plot twist emerges and surprise! The two are nothing like each other.

Somehow, you manage though. Many days you feel that you are hanging on by a mere fingernail, but you make it through, one day at a time. The doubt that you are doing anything right is nearly constant, but then there are moments that fill you with so much love, pride and joy that you almost cannot physically contain it. Those are the moments that make it all worth it. All the long hours, physical demands, mental stress and tears, so many tears, suddenly seem like a small price to pay for this level fulfillment.

I can’t decide which was harder, pushing out a baby or pushing out a studio. My two actual babies are 2.5 years apart which gave me a bit more time between to recover. My studio babies are only 11 months apart, and brought me closer to my limit than I’d like to admit. The good news? WE MADE IT. At least that’s what I thought until I just now realized, I am probably only a foot down the iceberg. Sh*%. Well…here’s to the unknown; may we face it bravely and with endurance.




I started Instagram this year. I swore up and down that Facebook was enough for me, but I kept hearing Instagram was “better” and “less annoying", so I finally caved. My intention was to only follow people or pages that fed my soul. I'm a nature girl, my first follow was Natgeo (National Geographic). I searched next for people that were in my Yoga community. I loved seeing how real they were, and it genuinely inspired me. My search took me to a few others that were not in my personal community, but who were equally inspiring. Soon I was flooded with images of beautiful, perfect bodies, doing beautiful, perfect Yoga poses. I consider myself to be fairly rational, but I had to remind myself that this was Instagram, not real life. I started to notice feelings of inadequacy creeping in as I viewed these flawless women, because it felt so far from how I viewed myself. I saw myself as flawed and imperfect, and I was okay with that, before I was deluged with perfection. I would go into my practice and attempt to duplicate the Yoga poses I saw on Instagram. I became my worst critic; my comparison game wasn't feeding my soul, it was depleting it. I know I'm not alone in getting sucked in. We all love it, but, ultimately, end up loving to hate it. Social Media can work to our advantage and fulfill our positive intentions but only if we remain mindful. As you navigate through social media, keep the following in mind to avoid opening the floodgates to negative self talk:

1.    You are flawed and imperfect- we all are. A picture can capture only what you allow it to capture. The person posting the picture on Instagram wants to portray to others perfection, and they may be pretty great at what they're doing, but like the rest of us, they have their strengths and are average at a whole lot of other things. They are imperfect and have insecurities just like you do. Remember that, always. 

2.    What is your intention? Be mindful of why you are on social media. We often forget why we connect in the first place. What made us open that Instagram or Facebook account? What were we hoping to gain, find, or learn? These questions will always bring you back to the genuine purpose of connecting. When we start to forget our intention, we start to forget ourselves. We may also find that we need to reevaluate what we're taking away from social media and make some shifts in what we expose ourselves to. It's important to protect our souls and our feelings of well being.

3.    Your yoga mat speaks to you- ok not really, but you get what I’m saying. When you are on your mat, you will at one point or another start to have an inner dialogue with yourself. Listen to this dialogue, but don’t try to change it. Just be present and aware of what your thoughts are. I paid attention to mine, and they said "you are human and that is perfect."


 Check out more of Nayantara's posts  here . 

Check out more of Nayantara's posts here

Death (or... LIFE!) By Embarrassment

Just before class begins I often demo a posture and give a short verbal preview of what is to come.  Over time, I’ve become very comfortable standing in front of class with all eyes on me.  However, on one particular evening as I demoed a posture, I absentmindedly scratched at my face; a habit that’s lingered since the beginnings of my acre days as a teenager.  As I stood up I could feel some cold wetness on my face, so I wiped it with the back of my hand and there, before my eyes, was an unusual sight.  Lo and behold, I was bleeding…from my face…in front of nearly 30 people, all of whom were staring at me.  And as if this moment couldn’t be more humiliating, it just happened to be one of those times where the bleeding came fast, furious and unrelenting.  I realized then that I had two options; play it off and try to pretend as if nothing happened, or own the cringe-worthy moment, step out and deal with it.  My pride told me to play it off, but I knew better.  So I announced to the class that I needed a moment to deal with my adult acne and retrieved a tissue from the lobby.  When I returned we all had a good laugh, class resumed and something miraculous happened…life continued. 

 A fairly accurate representation of the awkwardness that ensues prior to each class.                                             PC: Kati Beshore

A fairly accurate representation of the awkwardness that ensues prior to each class.                                           

PC: Kati Beshore

That was just one of the many mortifying moments I've endured since starting this wild adventure.  I’ve had the pleasure of chasing and killing a cockroach in a class full of people (more than one time I might add).  Roach murder weapons include a yoga block, a water bottle, and the closest shoe I could grab.  Other noteworthy embarrassing moments include: knocking down a student, stepping on student’s glasses, stepping on student’s hair, kicking a remote at a student’s face, and the ultimate one, breaking my finger with my own foot, IN A YOGA POSTURE (face palm).  There are many others, but there’s only so much a person can relive in one day before overdosing on vulnerability and humiliation. 

I suppose by now you are probably feeling devastated that I am not the perfect person you thought I was (or maybe that’s just what I’m feeling…#projection).  So why share all this “shame” with the world? I mean geez Des…was there not enough suffering the first time around?  Reflecting on all of these experiences, I tried to figure out why each instance only derailed me for a few moments.  After all, I’ve had various embarrassing moments in life that sent me into a tailspin and affected me for days, weeks and sometimes longer.  So what is different about me now? Well, I know deep down who I am, what defines me, and more importantly, what doesn’t.  Acne, cockroaches, and mistakes do not make me who I am.  When we believe that the wrong things define who we are, we create a world of unnecessary mental distress.  FREE YOURSELF.  You have the ability to create your own heaven or your own hell. Unfortunately, we often tend to create the latter and live eternally there.  Seneca pointedly said “You are afraid of dying, but come now, how is this life of yours anything but death?” Even better, Marcus Aurelius says, “Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed.  Don’t feel harmed — and you haven't been.”

As you move about your day today encountering obstacles, people and difficult experiences, ask yourself; does this define me?  Does this have any effect or bearing on me as a person?  Most likely it does not.  So let it float on by and enjoy the beautiful peace that results from letting it go.

-Desiree Heckman

A Culture of Kindness

I recently had a physical therapy appointment for my injured finger.  At first, I debated if I should even go because I knew it would be a vulnerable experience, but decided that professional help was better than my usual “wing it” tactic.  I felt anxiety going into the appointment, but could not identify why.  I later realized that I felt my “problem” was insignificant, and therefore not worth a PT’s time.  That was clearly lame and untrue, but when I met my PT she managed to make me feel exactly the way I had feared.  From the start of the appointment, she acted uninterested and almost bothered, which only amplified my initial unease.  As the appointment went on, I did my best to energize her with conversation, but to no avail.  She explained a variety of exercises that I should do to bring back mobility to my finger and began to rigorously massage the scar on my fingertip.  I winced in pain and she asked if I had been doing this regularly, in which I responded “…no.”  With a baffled look she replied “How do you not know to do this?”  The combination of physical pain and the apparent insulting of my intelligence nearly brought me to tears.  I did my best to stifle the belly-clenching emotion that was bubbling up, and responded “How would I have known to do that?” (…perhaps with a bit of attitude.)



“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” — Malcolm S. Forbes. 



This experience reminded me of a major reason why I am a yoga teacher.  People all around us are constantly dealing with the stresses of life, and often, just trying to make it through each day.  Everywhere I look people are sad, beat down, and struggling to get a handle on their life, and yet, it is such a rare case that anyone gives a crap.  Every week I observe students courageously come to the studio and, at times, it takes everything in them to just to get there.  When they walk through those doors, the last thing they need is another stressful, anxiety-inducing experience, particularly if it is their first time doing yoga.  It takes a boatload of courage to be vulnerable and try something new, and I consider it a huge responsibility to remember that and warmly break down initial fears when I see them.  Usually, it only takes a small gesture of connection like an authentic smile, remembering a name, or asking a thoughtful question.  People are braced for abrupt answers, short exchanges, and even to be ignored, so the opposite can throw them for a loop.   Witnessing tension physically melt from a person’s face or shoulders when they are treated with kindness has got to be one of my favorite parts of being a yoga teacher.



“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”                                       Mahatma Gandhi



However, there is a secret trick to pull this off, and I am going to let you in on it.  You have to ACTUALLY care.  It may be forced at first, but with a bit of practice and consistency, it will happen.  Your compassion and empathy for others will become almost automatic and I guarantee you will change a lot of lives, especially your own.   If you have been to Old Town Yoga, you know kindness is the foundation of our culture.  If you haven’t been and need a refreshing dose of love and acceptance, you now know where to find it. 

-Desiree Heckman

 Old Town Yoga Studio (Pictured: Desiree Heckman and Crystal Uyeno)  Photo Credit: Kati Beshore

Old Town Yoga Studio (Pictured: Desiree Heckman and Crystal Uyeno)

Photo Credit: Kati Beshore

If I Try Hard Enough, I Can Control EVERYTHING (insert evil laugh)

I wish I could go back and meet the 20-year-old Desiree.  She was smartest version of Desiree that has yet to exist.  Her world was black and white; right or wrong; good or bad.  She knew what she wanted, why she wanted it, where she was going, how to get there, and pitied all of the sad people who knew none of those things.  She never wasted time doing “fun” things, for they were pointless.  Her opinions were strong, and if you had the pleasure of knowing 20-year-old Desiree, I am sorry.  If you knew her, and are still part of my life, thank you.  This means you endured a lot of impatience, quick words, and frequent insensitivity.  

 Rare photograph of the smartest Desiree 

Rare photograph of the smartest Desiree 

    If 20-year-old Desiree met 31-year-old Desiree, she would not approve.  With age, I have miraculously gotten dumber and more unsure of nearly everything in life. (I fear what my mental state will be in 25+ years.) I often wonder how I got here and question if I am on the right track, but all I have to do is take a sweeping look around to realize I have never worked, loved and lived so fully. I've also never been happier and the surprising part is that it is borderline effortless. I hesitate to use that word because, believe me, I put a lot of effort into everything I do, but rather than fixating on a goal and jamming my way there, when opportunities present themselves I simply follow the “breadcrumbs.” This has led to life becoming less of a grind and more of a joy.  It is taken a lot of letting go to get here though.  In fact, letting go has become a daily practice.  Letting go of what people think of me (number one most FREEING thing ever), letting go of a lot of beliefs and habits, letting go of my illusion of control over my life, and most of all, letting go of what I thought my life would be like.  For most of my life I forced everything.  I forced myself to start college immediately after high school and finish in no more than four years; I forced myself to work as much as humanly possible; I forced myself to believe things that intuitively felt wrong.  Oddly enough, the few times in my early 20’s when I didn't “force it”, things turned out beautifully. The main example of that is my incredible husband.  Contrary to everything I was raised to believe and taught in church, I dated a guy who was not in the church.  It felt right though.  At one point, I seriously considered ending things with him just a few months into our relationship when he told me that he “didn't know” what he believed.  I couldn't understand that, and I envisioned all the terrible things that would result from his honesty with me.  I thank God every day that I went with my gut and stayed with him, and shudder to think what would have happened otherwise.  

 First glimpse of Desiree throwing caution to the wind.

First glimpse of Desiree throwing caution to the wind.

    The second most significant time that I surrendered to what was happening was when I found my yoga practice. It seemed as if it was by accident, but in retrospect, I think it was trying to find me years earlier in the form of my pilates class at Fresno State.  It was closer to yoga than pilates, and I loved it.  When I took a pilates class at GB3, a yoga teacher was the substitute and she instead taught yoga, and I loved it.  When I took the Tone It Up challenge and they had a yoga workout, instead of skipping it, I did it.  I'll let you guess if I loved it.

    I continued following my yoga curiosity and, at first, stuck only to Tone It Up and a yoga app because they weren't “spiritual.”  I cautiously began letting go of my preconceived beliefs about yoga and the rest of my yoga journey unfolded quite quickly and spectacularly (read journey here).  I've heard that success is a combination of luck and preparation and I have had both, but I also feel surrendering is just as important. In fact, when I reflect on the moments just before I broke my finger, I realized that a forceful thought went through my head. I had been falling out of my posture over and over and as I tried it again I said to myself "I am not letting go of my shoe this time." I am no match for gravity though and my shoe explained to my unrelenting grip that it was going down with or without it’s consent. Snap! Broken finger. 

    Moral of the story, boys and girls? Stop fighting, resisting, forcing. Surrender. Live your life, follow your passions and curiosities and stop living in fear of the outcomes. Put out there what you want, take actions in your control and then sit back and watch it unfold.  When detours and unexpected bumps arise, surrender. When things "don't go your way," surrender.  You really are not in control anyway.  This is not a concept 20 year old Desiree would have accepted and it's one that I currently struggle with daily.  Thankfully, I am now aware of how little of my world I can control and I remind myself of this every time I begin to feel overwhelmed.  What are you fighting, forcing or resisting?  Take a moment to identify it, name it out loud, and, in the wise words of Queen Elsa, “let it go.”

-Desiree Heckman