Science shows that yoga improves mental health in stress reduction, overall mood boost, and serotonin level improvement. But for some students, attending group classes can be intimidating because they’re concerned about their physical appearance. Michelle Faust presents Dawn Hopkins, the founder and President of Inspiritus Yoga. Dawn talks about how offering online yoga videos lets her students exercise in the comfort of their own homes. One effective way to start loving your body is to appreciate what it could do instead of focusing on what it looks like. Join in the conversation to get more inspiration on loving yourself.
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How Attending Yoga Classes Improves Mental Health With Dawn Hopkins
Good morning, afternoon, evening, wherever in the world you may be. I hope you are having a great day. Thank you so much for tuning in the show. We are in the middle of doing a series on the on The Lemonade Stand 2. I am so excited about it because we have got some incredible authors. In this episode, we have Ms. Dawn Hopkins with us from the Phoenix area in Arizona. Welcome to the show.
Thank you. I am super excited to be here.
How has the weather been there? I have been hearing that it has been a little on the cooler side for normal.
It has been chillier in the evening for sure. During the day, normally we are in the 60s or 70s and it has been cooler than that lately but it is nice in the sun. I have been teaching some classes outdoors. It has not been too terrible. I have a training center in Canada. I talked to them and they are under snow so I am feeling pretty blessed.
I would give anything to have some weather like that. That is why we endure the heat of the summer to have the winter months that we can enjoy. Speaking of doing some classes outdoors, why don’t you talk about what you do when you are not writing a chapter for The Lemonade Stand?
Science shows that yoga improves mental health in stress reduction, overall mood boost, and serotonin level improvement. Click To Tweet
I am the Founder and President of Inspiritus Yoga: Wholistic Wellness & Training. We equip yoga instructors to teach. We provide continuing education and master’s training for existing yoga teachers. We also provide a lot of different wellness programs and services, including some healing modalities like Reiki, Thai yoga massage and yoga therapy. I work with private clients quite a bit in that regard and also do group classes around yoga therapy. I am an animal wellness coach, mindful eating coach and facilitator. I have got my hands in quite a few things but I love it. It is my passion and my purpose. It is the alchemy of my story that led to this.
How have you had to adapt over the period of time with COVID? A lot of what you do is a very personal and hands-on type of thing.
We have been following CDC recommendations. There was a period of time when my yoga classes were not in person at all. They were completely virtual and online. I do work with private clients online as well. We adjusted our teacher training programs to be online when we had to be. We are offering a lot of different ways to participate. We might offer a course where somebody could be in person, online or watch it via recording after the fact.
It provides opportunities for people all over for the program to meet them where they are. It has been challenging. People are getting a little fatigued about Zoom. With the rise in COVID numbers, we are seeing fewer and fewer people wanting to be in person. We are continuing to try to adapt our programs to meet people where they are the best that we know how.
I am the Lemonade Lady so I am always looking at, “What is the good out of this?” I can tell you and thank you that yoga is something that I have always wanted to do and be a part of mostly because I have very poor core strength. What has always been difficult for me is taking group classes because I do not hear well. I am the one that is twisting around like pretzels trying to look at the instructor because I can’t hear what the instructions are. I am sure I am not getting what I need out of the class when I am having to go into contortion to try and take a look at the yoga instructor.
My silver lining has been that we have done some sessions online and recorded them. Even though there are still some times that I have to look over to the computer on Zoom to make sure that I am doing it right, the more I go over it on the recorded sessions and the more I go, “I am spot on. I am doing what I need to do.” I get that in some ways, we need to have these dark moments to discover new ways of doing things.
I would certainly not discourage anyone from taking the online route because it is very personal. Personal in that you also offer Christ-centered yoga which includes the meditation, you appropriately pick what I need to hear at the moment and that we are doing a session. There are good things out of that. I hope people will continue to take advantage of it.
I am finding also that people who might not feel comfortable going into a group class to take a class because they are not feeling as confident in their abilities or maybe they are self-conscious or reluctant to get started. I am getting new people because they feel comfortable in their own homes. Nobody can see what they are doing except for me. It does not matter what they look like and what they are wearing. There are finding more freedom in their own bodies in that way. It is nice to see more people coming and trying things out because it removes the intimidation factor.
We were also talking before we started about what a great tool it is in terms of mental health. It is great for the physical. That is the way I have always looked upon yoga but now I am starting to understand the need in terms of depression. That has been helpful. I am down here in Panama for a short period of time. The weather is such that I can flame.
That has been an absolute lifesaver for me to get out because we have had definite quarantine restrictions but I am in a condo so I am technically not leaving the condo if I am using the pool. Doing those types of exercises, yoga and the pool has been keeping me happy. There have been some days that have been pretty tough then you go out and get your dose of exercise. It is like a whole new world.
Appreciate what your body could do instead of focusing on your appearance. Click To Tweet
There is so much more benefit to yoga than just the physical. Science is now showing and proving the mental health benefits of yoga in terms of stress reduction, stress relief, helping with things like anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and boosting the overall mood and improving serotonin levels. There is a whole body of research behind it. I also work with people who have trauma and PTSD. Those numbers are growing given what has happened since the pandemic. I love to be able to provide people with tools and things that they can use to help them mitigate what is happening for them in regards to this pandemic, the isolation and the impact that that has had.
That is a great segue into your story because when we first talked, the discussion was not so much about your story. The discussion was which story. In fact, when people tell me, “I do not have a story.” I say, “You have a story. In fact, you may have more than one.” You knew you had different stories inside of you that could offer embrace. You chose to write about love and the love you have for your most wonderful husband, Bob, who I feel like I need to steal from you. You went through a lot before you found your true soulmate. A lot of that is what led you to yoga and mindful eating. Talk about where you were at from a mental and physical standpoint.
It is so important that we talk about mental health issues. We are seeing such an increase in these challenges. Removing the shame and the stigma is so vitally important. Part of my story involves some mental health challenges that I had along the way. When I was young, I struggled with an eating disorder. I grew up in a dysfunctional home with a lot of fighting that would escalate into domestic violence. I feel like part of my eating disorder was born out of that anxiety, lack of control and chaos which is common. I was in body conscious sport. I was a springboard diver. The pressure is to look perfect and to have the perfect body. All of that compounded and it led to some dysfunctional eating and relationship between me and my body.
Over the years, I was able to overcome the eating disorder behaviors but the mentality was still present. I carried that into adulthood and beyond. It was not until I was exposed to the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program, met Michelle May who founded that program and became friends with her. I started to unravel the final residual stuff that was hanging around in terms of my relationship with food. I had gotten good at being a restrictive eater. I was very focused on health and wellness. At the time I met her, I owned a gym and was a personal trainer but the mentality was still there.
She saw that in me and very gracefully encouraged me to take her programs so I could refer other clients to her. The people who were coming to my gym who needed some support in that way was for me first and foremost. Going through that program revealed so much and helped me to heal my relationship with food. At the same time, I was exposed to Christ-centered yoga. I hated yoga in the beginning. It was awful. I could not be still. I was used to being an athlete and moving and challenge myself in that way. The stillness was difficult because of what was going on here.
Over time, I fell in love with the practice of yoga because there was a spiritual component present that I connected to. I started to connect with my body in a different way and started to appreciate what my body could do instead of focusing on my appearance. I was making these mind-body connections and I felt the mental health benefits of yoga. It was all coming together at the same time which ultimately led me to be trained as a mindful eating facilitator and to get trained as a yoga instructor.
I wanted to be able to share with people the amazing gifts and healing that I was receiving and the transformation that was taking place. I wanted to provide that to other people. That is the overarching storyline with respect to my career choice and becoming a yoga teacher, yoga trainer, yoga teacher trainer and mindful eating facilitator and coach. It is very much a part of my story but the backstory had a lot to do with what was going on with my relationships too.
My husband and I had talked about this, “If I only I knew you when,” thing. We both have previous marriages and children in those marriages. Every time he says that, I say, “I would not have been ready for you and you would not have been ready for me.” The question is, as amazing as your relationship is with Bob, do you think that would have happened if the two of you would have been in a position to meet each other many years ago?
I would not have even seen him for who he is back then because I was such a mess. It is okay, I can say that now. I can look back and say, “I was a real mess.” I ended up in some dysfunctional relationships. We are holistic beings. If we are struggling in one area, we are struggling in another. In the ways in which I was struggling in my own body, in my own mind and my self esteem being affected, I ended up in some very dysfunctional relationships. A lot of it mirrored the relationships that I grew up with. It is funny how history repeats itself. You do not even know it is happening because you are used to it and that is what you are familiar with and that is what you grew up with.
At some point, there is a tipping point and you have to make a choice, “Am I going to continue to repeat these terrible patterns in my relationships and be with people who are abusive or at the very least in a dysfunctional relationship? Am I going to sever those ties and evolve into something else?” It was through my relationship with God, a new relationship with my body and restoring mind that I was able to be ready for a guy like Bob following two failed marriages.
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Everyone’s tipping point is different and triggered by whatever their situation is. People, women in particular, will endure some pretty bad relationships before they will allow themselves to hit that tipping point to say, “Enough is enough. I need to be out of here.” Any words of wisdom on that having gone through a couple of bad relationships or how you ease yourself out of them?
The more we get to know ourselves and the more we find a love of self, at the very least, an acceptance of self, the better our relationships are going to be. I had to make peace with me. I had to learn to accept and love myself and then to reveal the true self like, “Who am I? What do I want?” I spent a lot of time being a perfectionist and a people pleaser. Peeling away at that and allowing myself to be authentic and transparent and go, “I am not alone. Nobody is perfect.” There is an a-ha moment.
All the people on TV are perfect.
That is what they want you to believe. We grow up in this culture where it is smoke and mirrors. It is all glossy and pretty. The reality is that is not truth. Starting to peel away at that is important. It is part of why I do a lot of body image work because we are in this thin culture and diet culture. Meanwhile, people are not healthy. They appear to be healthy but they are not. Plus, we have all this photoshopping taking place and photo editing. What we are seeing is not even real and we are aspiring to these standards that are not realistic. They are not real and they are not necessarily healthy.
For me, it was learning to love and accept myself, receiving the love of God, realizing I was a child of God and I was loved exactly the way I am and then starting to look at other people’s relationships that were healthy and vibrant and going, “I want that.” That is part of my story. I saw Bob and his late wife, Sandy’s relationship and was like, “I have nothing like that. I want that someday.” I did not know it would be him because God works in mysterious ways. I wanted a relationship that was healthy and vibrant where you saw these two people who were not two broken halves coming together to be one but that were two holy individuals that made each other better.
How important do you think it is then to have that manifestation and imagery of what you are looking for in a relationship?
It is very important. That is what happened for me. The unhealthy relationship that I was in with my ex-husband, once I could start to see that for what it was and then I started to see what a healthy relationship looked like, it happened on its own. It is like, “This is no longer acceptable to me. I am not going to tolerate this. If we can’t make this relationship healthy, I need to go.” It was a very scary thing because I had kids, “How am I going support my kids? How am I going to support myself financially?” All those things that come into play and letting go of the hope for this relationship to ever be what I wanted and hoped for it to be. On the other hand going, “I can have something better. I can be in a relationship with somebody who values, sees, supports and loves me authentically.”
Putting that intention out made me willing to wait for a while. After my divorce, I was willing to wait. That might have meant waiting indefinitely but I was like, “I am not going to settle anymore. I deserve better.” Some of that was that inner work that I had to do and that inner healing work to believe that I deserved something better.
That whole idea of waiting until you are in the right place and until you meet the right person is important. I can speak for myself growing up and then dysfunctional family. I snapped up for a guy who was willing to propose to me. That did not work out but I did not want to wait. I wanted out of my family situation. I see my kids who are at that age where they are seeing their friends getting married and whatnot.
They are playing with their mind that, “Time is slipping by. I am going to be alone forever. I will never find that relationship.” When in reality, if you are only 30, you got plenty of time. We have this concept of what is right, how old we should be when am I having babies and when our careers are getting set off it. We have to get rid of that timetable that somehow has been ingrained in all of us of how things are supposed to be.
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I agree, and allow things to be what they will be and instead of trying to control the process. What is wrong with being alone?
I have some female friends who chose to be single. They are in their 50s and 60s and they are like, “I would not have done this any other way. I have been happy having my life way I want it.” I love seeing people who are able to step outside of that zone that we have all gotten ourselves caught up in what is right and wrong. It is a matter of living outside the box and finding what is right for you.
I was about to say living outside of the box and coloring outside of the lines.
Let’s talk more about your story. You were very good friends with Bob but he was married at the time. You were very good friends. I do not want to give too much away because nobody cheated on anybody. There was nothing bad and nothing wrong but I do encourage people to read the story that she had that dynamic happen when you went from a friend to then Sandy losing her battle with cancer.
There was that oddness between being friend to saying, “We might be able to have another relationship here.” It is a beautiful story because you had to think it through before making a conscious decision if an intimate relationship was okay when you had all these other things in terms of friends and whatnot. I love that part of your story.
I remember the first time I thought he was cute in that way. I always thought he was adorable as a human but all of a sudden, I am like, “He is cute. Is it too soon? Should I be having these feelings?” I do not want to give it away either. I want you to read that story.
Reading about when you were diving which is a difficult sport and you look good but I remember you saying that with your father, it was like you were not good enough. It suddenly lost its appeal for something that you wanted to strive for. It reminded me of when I was swimming because I am swimming for health and exercise. I was feeling very frustrated because I was swimming 3 or 4 times a week. I am not seeing stomach budge. Nothing is happening.
As I am swimming those laps, there was one point and I said, “I am swimming for my health. I feel better. I already feel better. I have been feeling better since I have been doing this. I need to take the focus off what is going on my stomach, my thighs and my behind.” It was a pivotal moment for me to remember that I was doing it for health and other things will follow. In the diving world where the body image is you can’t have an ounce of fat anywhere.
It is like that with figure skating, dancing, any of the gymnastics and any of those sports where your body is exposed. You are not just being judged on the way you perform a dive or a routine. You are being judged by how you look. It is a lot of pressure for teenage girls which oftentimes, we start even younger than that. I was a preteen when I started. That pressure to look perfect and also to be perfect because you are getting scored for diving. It is on a scale of 1 to 10. There is this pressure to be perfect. For somebody who already was struggling with perfectionism, it was very difficult for me.
I had my father who wanted me to be the very best that I could be. He wanted me to get scholarships. I do not think it was coming from a bad place at all, looking back. Unwittingly, he reinforced that by constantly reviewing my videos of my diving meets and pointing out all the flaws and all the mistakes I made. I was already doing that. I did not need help with that. Eventually, I lost my love for the sport. It was sad and unfortunate looking back because it was such an important part of my life for so long.
You did a lot teach discipline and what body health, feeling good means and carried over into yoga. I do have a lot of questions. It is more about the writing process. Can you share with us what it was like to put your story down on paper to pull you, put it out there and know that you were going share all this with people?
It was terrifying. It is very exposing because it is one thing to share your story one-on-one or even in a group setting but now anyone and everyone could potentially see my story. That process was about letting go of the shame that I had about my story. I thought that I had done that inner healing work in that way but there were still layers of shame that remained. As I was writing, I was like, “Do I want to say that? Do I want to share that?” In doing that, there was so much freedom.
It took me to levels of healing that I never knew were possible because it is about, “I am going to be transparent. I am going to be authentic and share what my journey has been in hopes that it will inspire, help and encourage somebody.” That goal in mind made it so much easier but in the process of doing it, I felt like I was liberated. Part of me was opened that I hadn’t realized I had locked down because of shame. Thank you for inviting me and constantly encouraging me. That was an important part of the process for me.
I appreciate you sharing that because I had seen it so often. What I do try to tell people who are very reluctant is, “You have no idea what that liberating feeling is going to be.” If you choose not to share the story, that is okay but even the process of putting it down on paper is a very powerful process. When it is running around in your head, it does not follow a timeline. You do not connect the dots when it is in your head but when you start putting it down on paper, you connect the dots and you understand more why you are who you are and why you have come to where you are at.
I am very proud of you. I appreciate your enthusiasm that we have been sharing all along the way and for being here on the show. Look forward, you readers out there, for The Lemonade Stand 2: From Sour to Sweet, An Alchemy of Extraordinary Virtue. Thank you for reading. I hope you have a great day. We will be talking with you next time. Thank you, Dawn, so much for being with us. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Michelle, for all that you do to inspire people and urge people. The work that you are doing is making a difference in the world. It certainly made a difference in me.
I appreciate that.
About Dawn Hopkins
Dawn Hopkins is the Founder and President of Inspiritus Yoga: Wholistic Wellness & Training Centers, an international yoga school and wellness service provider with three training centers in Phoenix, Detroit, and Saskatoon, SK. Dawn holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and she is a Master Yoga instructor and Trainer, Yoga Therapist, Thai Yoga Massage and Reiki Practitioner, and Licensed Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Facilitator.