There she is in a ridiculously gorgeous split. And, oh, look: Her camel pose is an arch of majesty. In another snap her hair whips across her face, a playful grin the final touch.
Sound like just another in a bunch of Instagram yogis? Think again! Though Caley Alyssa loves, uses, and supports social media, her brand of yoga reaches far beyond any hashtag. Time in the studio, online, and offline are all integral parts of her modern-day yogi approach.
And it's working: With a huge following, Alyssa teaches to packed rooms and retreats while maintaining an engaging online presence. SBS catches up with the Oregon native to learn about using social media in a healthy way and how her personal practice helped her in tough times.
SBS: How did yoga come into your life?
Caley Alyssa: I've always been into health and fitness, from ballet to skiing. We were outdoorsy in Oregon! Then, I went into finance. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I got a job at a bank, and I was stuck there.
When I was working in San Francisco, I went to a yoga class on a whim with a friend. I saw a teacher training, and I thought I might as well do it. I completed the training while working full-time, and I opened a yoga studio on the side. I wanted to do them both.
But, when I was let go, I was lucky to get a severance package. Working there was toxic. That's when I was able to go deeper with my yoga practice and business.
At the time, my then-husband was working all the time, sometimes until four in the morning. I didn’t have that many friends. My yoga training gave me instant community and connection I needed. I fell in love with the fact that people were trying to be better humans there. They were connecting with that idea of growth and transformation. It was very attractive and sexy to me. It allowed me to get back into the physical place I hadn’t been in in a while.
SBS: You grew up as a dancer and athlete. What did you think when you first experienced yoga?
CA: People always said, ‘You’re a dancer, so yoga must come so easily to you.’ But it's quite the opposite. We’re so open and turned out, and yoga is hard because it’s neutral from downward dog to plank.
When I came to LA, people were hopping from downward dog into handstand, and I couldn’t even do a handstand! Every time I kicked up, I flipped over because my back was so flexible. Yoga helped me turn everything inward literally and figuratively. It was a hard challenge, but I love being pushed and learning new things physically.
SBS: How did yoga help you 'turn inward'?
CA: Well, it wasn’t that way at first. The spiritual and esoteric stuff wasn’t something I learned. I had a glimmer of it, and I felt it. I knew I had just nipped the tip of the iceberg when I started, and eventually, I wanted more. I wasn’t ready to dive deep into it, though, when I started. I was learning the physical aspects and the verbiage and the adjusting. I was finding my confidence in who I was in yoga before I got into the deeper stuff.
But I always wanted to. When I did my 500-hour training in NYC with Dharma Mittra, that's when it changed for me. He is all about the meditation. That’s what it’s all for, and that’s what it should be. It was beautiful to see how I could build depth into my practice. After that, I’ve gone deeper. I’ve done transcendental meditation and a 10-day silent meditation. It’s a huge part of who I am and what I teach in my classes. I’ve changed.
SBS: What do you mean ‘That’s what it should be’?
CA: I should clarify: There’s no 'should' in yoga. Yoga can be whatever it is. In Western culture, originally people came for the workout. Inevitably they will start to get the ‘work in’ with the meditative aspects. Whether it takes 10 days or 10 years, they will eventually see it’s not just physical. But that takes time.
It’s like when you go to a spin class, and the teacher says ‘Turn it up two notches.’ Maybe you reach down and just pretend. It’s like that with meditation. Sometimes, I tell myself I’m going to do it, and I sit down for five minutes, and my mind is running around. I still check it off my list.
But how many times can you do that and not drop in? You know you’re being lazy, and you don’t force yourself. For me, it was like that with teeny baby steps. At first, I used an app with guided meditations and said, ‘Ok, just do one of those a day.’ Eventually it became a routine and second nature. Then, I started playing around with other things I was interested in. I started getting spiritual cleansing work done, going to crystal shops, reading tarot cards. It all adds up.
So start with something simple like one goal a day. It doesn’t have to be huge, but actually turn the veritable dial. Give it a fair shot.
SBS: How did you handle the transition from the corporate world into yoga?
CA: The first reverberation when I got laid off from my job in San Francisco was easier because, at the time, I had a husband who helped me, and I also received severance.
But then when I changed cities it became increasingly more difficult. I realized quickly that LA yoga is a different thing. If I was going to teach here, my classes had to get up to snuff, not to mention going through a divorce in a new city. I was in a bad place and facing challenges. My yoga practice was the one consistent thing. It was my solace.
SBS: When you were going through rough patches, how did yoga help you? What did you need to do in your practice to maintain yoga as a therapeutic tool?
CA: Just showing up and getting my ass into class every day was essential. That’s where I met my community naturally, in San Francisco and LA. I grabbed my mat even if I was sobbing. I’d still go and cry in class.
SBS: You’ve spoken about the communities that have supported you along your journey. How can a newer yogi find his or her own tribe?
CA: Try yoga studios and teachers on like shoes. You can’t just go to one. Then you think that’s what yoga is. That’s just that studio and teacher at that moment. Remember: Maybe their cat died, and they’re not emotionally there. So give it time. It’s not something that happens right away. Give them a few chances. You’ll know when it feels authentic. Try different styles, male and female teachers and don’t be afraid to try new things.
SBS: How do you think Instagram and social media have affected yoga and wellness?
CA: I love social media. But, I limit my time on it. I post once a day and that’s it, and that’s where I draw the line. It’s a beautiful thing. At first, I wasn’t on that train. I thought it was egotistical. But in reality, I’ve had the most beautiful experiences. I went to Italy and taught a pop-up class because of social media! I’ve met great people and enjoyed cool experiences...all because of social media.
The amount of time people devote to it is a personal issue. People get addicted to it. So the key for me is, when I get home at night, my phone goes on airplane mode. I don’t reply to e-mail all the time. Social media is a part of my daily practice, but not the whole thing.
SBS: How do you feel about the yogis who are utilizing Instagram to garner student followings? What should students be aware of when looking to Instagram for teachers?
CA: There’s a lot of fame around Instagram and poses, and a lot of the teachers who post those are brand new. They have amazing pictures, but they might not be a great teacher. They might be one day, but remember: Teacher trainings are happening every day. Every one is a yoga teacher.
So instead of just looking at Instagram, do your research, see how long they’ve been teaching and who they’ve been teaching. Some Instagram yogis don’t teach. They just take pictures. So it’s up to you to separate the two categories. Ignorance is no longer bliss. Take it upon yourself to do some research.
SBS: You mentioned it took you a while to get your headstand. What did it feel like when you finally nailed it?
CA: At first I could hold it for a second or two. It was great. But eventually, I got it. You accomplish anything and you’re happy. It takes focus and skill, and it takes awareness of where your body is spatially. So, it was awesome. Obviously, yoga is not about getting your headstand, but it's a fun thing!
And for me, as a teacher, I want to be able to do everything. I want to feel it so I can teach it. It's crucial to know how it felt and the pieces that contributed to it for my students.
Caley’s LA Favorites:
Healthy Restaurant: Gjusta and Gjelina
Splurge Restaurant: Son of a Gun and Jon and Vinny’s
Non-Yoga Workout: Rock climbing
Athletic Wear: Alo Yoga
Yoga Studios: Power Yoga East, YogaWorks and Love Yoga
Resources: Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main
Fun activity: Hiking or going to Venice Beach
Calming Activity: Olympic Spa
Caley’s SBS Mantra: Be kind. I’ve experienced kindness and not. One of the things I try to remind myself of is that saying, 'Be kind, for everyone is fighting their own battle.' I’ve found if I can somehow pray for my adversaries and send them love, it helps me.