This is a series describing, dot by dot, how I went from being a San Francisco CFO to an Athens Yoga Instructor. You can read individual installments below or scroll down for the entire series.
1.0-1.1: My Boyfriend Walked Out and My Teacher Walked In (Sept 2007)
1.1-1.2: White Tantric Yoga (March 2008)
1.2-1.3: A Death in the Family (June 2008)
1.3-1.4: 40 Days and 40 Nights of the Cleanse (Winter 2009)
1.4-1.5: The Burning Man Bumblebee Incident (Spring 2009)
1.5-1.6: A Festival in a Field in France (August 2009)
1.6-1.7: How I Crafted My Own “Study Abroad” Program (May 2011)
1.7-1.8: How My Dog Launched My Yoga Career (Sept 2012)
Read the entire series below
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”~Steve Jobs
(As originally published on the Elephant Journal Jan 6, 2019)
I’ve reflected on that quote a lot as I try to explain to people all the steps that led the prior version of me (I’ll call her Lynn 1.0), sitting in an office as an accountant in San Francisco eight years ago, to become the current version of me (Lynn 2.0), living in Greece teaching Kundalini Yoga under the Acropolis. My story is that in 2012 after living in San Francisco for 15 years, I moved to Athens, Greece.
The curious part of the story is that I had no reason to move—no Greek man, no Greek job, no Greek heritage to explore, just a very clear feeling, like a calling, that I should be in Athens. Since that move, I’ve quit my 20+ year career in finance to teach Kundalini Yoga and the Enneagram System of Personality. I’ve written two books on the subject (and I never planned to write a book!). It’s been quite a journey, and one I never would have expected.
People imagine that one day I just decided to change my life completely. But that isn’t what happened: there were a million dots along the way. I tried to map out the different dots in the hope you might find something to apply to your situation.
1.0 to 1.1 September 2007: My boyfriend walked out, and my teacher walked in
When I rewind back to the beginning, the whole transformation started in 2007 with a relationship breakup. My boyfriend and I had been together a little over two years, we were living together, and the relationship was collapsing. We had huge problems, but we also had a very deep connection so the breakup was quite painful for me. His friend, Amy, saw that I was struggling and said to me “Have you thought about trying Kundalini Yoga? That’s how I got through my divorce…It helped a lot. I eventually breathed my way to clarity.”
I had never even heard of Kundalini Yoga. I wasn’t even a “yoga person.” I was a surfer, a runner, and I had done paragliding and triathlons. I liked intensity. I thought yoga was boring. But I was suffering enough to be open to any suggestions so at 9:00 on a Saturday morning in September of 2007, I went to my first Kundalini Yoga class at the San Francisco Kundalini Yoga Center in the Haight Ashbury district.
The class was in an ashram, which had a sort of holy feeling, and the teacher was a man in his 50s dressed all in white with a long white beard and a white turban. The environment felt totally foreign, and I remember thinking “What. Is. This??”
It turned out to be an amazing stroke of luck that Siri Vedya was the teacher that day—he is an extremely kind person with a wonderfully uplifting energy and very inclusive manner. He was polite and welcoming in just the way I needed at the time. He explained that we’d keep our eyes closed for most of the class, which was a huge relief to me since I had been crying. We sat on strange rugs, we chanted, we did exercises I wasn’t familiar with, and he played his guitar as background music. I was completely outside my comfort zone, but somehow it worked. I felt better after the class. I felt stable, and my mind wasn’t in an endless loop of past events. I had no idea what had just happened, but I decided I would go back.
And this is how it started. Every Saturday from 9:00-10:30 I’d go to Siri Vedya’s Kundalini Yoga class. He was older and wise, and he would spend ten minutes at the beginning of each class talking about life, his experiences and observations, and tools we could use for our own lives. I grew to love the classes, and they became one of my favorite parts of the week.
After six months of these weekly classes, my mood had stabilized, and my outlook was more positive. And at this same time I began to notice strange occurrences in my body. In class, I started to feel energy in my hands and fingers that felt almost like a mild electric shock. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was strange. I eventually asked my teacher about it, and he said “Oh, that’s very normal. You’re waking up. Your energy is activating and starting to flow.” He didn’t offer a lot of explanation beyond that, and I didn’t push for more, but I did become interested so I started researching Kundalini Yoga on my own. And this is what led me six months later to a White Tantric Yoga class.
There is a yogic saying “Life isn’t good. Life isn’t bad. Life isn’t anything but raw material and how you interpret the events.” I’ve found this is true and that whole year of 2007 was a good example of that for me. At the time, it felt like the worst year of my life. But with perspective, while it was a painful year, it was also an important year. It was the year I started to wake up.
And if I was starting to come out of a haze in 2007, White Tantric Yoga in 2008 was like a bucket of cold water.
1.1 to 1.2: White Tantric Yoga
(As originally published in the Elephant Journal, January 12, 2019)
I had been doing Kundalini Yoga for about six months, but I didn’t really know anything about the practice itself. In the beginning, I didn’t care. I just wanted to feel better. But as I started to feel better, I became curious so I started doing my own reading and going to Kundalini Yoga workshops.
“Kundalini” is an ancient Sanskrit word that literally means “coiled snake.” It is also sometimes translated to mean “a lock or curl of hair.” The idea is that everyone possesses a divine energy that resides at the base of your spine. This energy is your creative potential. It is something we are born with, but we must make an effort to “uncoil the snake” or release the energy. When the energy is released, you awaken. Kundalini Yoga is the practice of awakening your Higher Self (or your soul) and turning potential energy into kinetic energy. When your Kundalini energy is activated, people report feeling clear about their purpose, aligned in their lives, relaxed, expansive and fearless.
Kundalini Yoga is often referred to as the yoga of awareness. It combines physical exercises, breathing techniques, mantra, meditation and energy management into a single practice. It is different than other forms of yoga in that it focuses more on energy management and breath control. All forms of yoga want to activate your Kundalini energy. Kundalini Yoga also specifically prepares your body for that change as this energy is powerful.
I learned all this and more from classes, workshops and reading about Kundalini Yoga. Eventually I started to hear people talking about White Tantric Yoga.
White Tantric Yoga is like the extreme sports of Kundalini Yoga. When I first heard about it, I was fascinated and repelled at the same time. Just the word “tantric” makes you curious because it’s so commonly associated with sex, but no, this practice has nothing to do with sex at all, that’s red tantric yoga. White Tantric Yoga is using the energy of a partner in meditation. The idea is this practice clears up all elements of the subconscious mind so that your actions are based on a clear mind that understands itself. You can use it to break blocks and things that are holding you back.
It’s an all-day event with meditations spanning 11 to 62 minutes. Meditations are announced as they are given to you so you never know what to expect. Sometimes your eyes are open, and you are staring into the eyes of a partner. Sometimes your eyes are closed. Some of the postures are very physically challenging. Some are easy. Sometimes you chant. Sometimes you don’t. There’s no routine, instructions are given only moments before starting. The things you do know are you must be dressed all in white with a white head covering, you have to sit cross legged in carefully organized lines, and you must have a partner (they assign you one if you come alone).
I think it was really curiosity more than anything that led me to go to my first White Tantric Yoga day in 2008. I wanted to see what would happen. This curiosity about the unknown has been a thread throughout my life and has led me on many colorful adventures. Why not White Tantric Yoga too? The pictures I had seen of everyone wearing white got me concerned this might be a cult so I carefully researched that point and after I established, no, this was in fact not a cult, I signed up.
They say you always get the right partner you need in White Tantric Yoga, and I am sure that was the case for me. I was assigned to a great person named Mark who was very stable and calm. And I got lucky—that particular day was considered easy with lots of 11 and 31 minute meditations. I chanted mantras I didn’t know, I stared into Mark’s eyes when we were asked to, and I followed along as much as I could. When it was over, I mainly just felt tired. I didn’t feel transformed or clear. I felt exhausted.
The after effects, however, were subtle and long ranging. As the weeks passed, my thoughts started to shift. I stopped being angry about things that happened years ago. I stopped replaying my past. 2008 was my first experience of White Tantric Yoga, but I’ve gone on to do over 25 days of the practice. And as I did more White Tantric Yoga, things started to become clearer for me. My thoughts shifted and changed one layer at a time. It was a gradual but very deep and fundamental change. It was like my brain reorganized.
When I trace it back, I did one day of White Tantric Yoga in 2008 and four days in 2009. I know those five days of White Tantric Yoga were part of the path that led me to Greece. They were steps in the destruction of mental blocks about what was and wasn’t possible for me in my life. At the time I would never have said meditation was somehow going to lead me to change countries. But in retrospect, those five days were significant dots along the way.
You can learn more about White Tantric Yoga here.
1.2 to 1.3: A Death in the Family (June 2008)
(As originally published on the Elephant Journal, January 19, 2019)
June of 2008 is the month my father died at the age of 66. My father was a good man who lived a fairly straightforward life. He had a single job his entire career, working as a test engineer for Lockheed Space and Missiles (now Lockheed Martin). He married his first girlfriend, my mother, in his 20s, and after their divorce when he was 55, he never had another relationship. He had strong ethics, high integrity, and he was an extremely stable person. He was also, unfortunately, an alcoholic, and this disease took a huge toll on his health.
After his death, my younger brother and I went to empty out his house. Going through his home was a window into his inner world, and in many ways, it was a depressing exercise. He had so many unfinished projects, so many unrealized dreams, so many small, heartfelt attempts to change his situation. We found letters, bank statements, printed emails, his notebook where he recorded events of the day. And we could trace the threads to where he began to give up on life. By the end, he was resigned and ready to die.
I think it was Joan Didion, the American author who wrote “The Year of Magical Thinking” who said “Death changes your phone book.” She’s right. It does. My father’s death was complicated and messy, and in the end, I stopped talking to most of my family for several years. For me, that was the healthiest response, and those years gave me perspective and a chance to sort things out on my own.
This whole situation left me reflecting a lot about my life. I was living comfortably in San Francisco working as a freelance finance consultant. My job was lucrative enough, but it didn’t energize me. And my life was comfortable, but it was predictable. I started thinking of having more free time. I had no clear goal-just a sense that it would be nice to work less. And so, a few months after the death of my father, I decided to scale back my work schedule, and I went from working five days a week to four.
When I connect the dots back, it all fits together. My father’s death made me reflect. I couldn’t have articulated it clearly at the time, but it was like I had been sleep walking, and I started to wake up. The security of working five days a week had become less interesting. And I wasn’t talking to my family so I didn’t feel I needed anyone’s permission to work less.
When I went from working five days a week to four, at first it was disorienting. I didn’t know what to do during my free day. But I adapted, and I spent the extra time figuring out what I really enjoyed doing. I would hang out in the park, meet friends for lunch, create art projects, read, surf, waste time, relax, all types of things. This space to explore was important for the next step in my transition. It became one of my dots. Upon reflection, I think it is probably critical for anyone who wants to change their path. There has to be space for creativity and new ideas to come forward.
With more free time, I eventually decided I wanted to sharpen a skill. I went back and forth between getting a certification in the Enneagram, a system of personality typing I had been casually studying for years or doing Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training. In the end, I decided on Kundalini Yoga, and in October of 2008, I went to my first day of training.
1.3 to 1.4: 40 Days and 40 Nights of the Cleanse (Feb 2009)
There are lots of ways to do the 200 hour Kundalini Yoga Level One Teacher Training. Because I was still working a fairly full-time schedule, I decided to take the program that stretched over eight months, starting in October of 2008 and ending in May of 2009.
I didn’t want to be a teacher. I really just wanted to learn more. And on the first day when we had our 1:1 interviews, I was very upfront with the trainers that I didn’t want to teach, I was just there to learn. They smiled and said “Yes, yes… Let’s just see what happens. In our experience, the people who come in wanting to be teachers, by the end of training decide they want to take some time out before teaching. And the people who come in not wanting to teach, those become the teachers.”
I said nothing but in my mind, I rolled my eyes.
Coming from the business world, I was not initially impressed with the training. There was no printed agenda. We had to be there at 8:00 a.m. but we rarely started before 9:00 a.m. I felt we wasted a lot of time hanging out and talking. And while I liked everyone in my class, in the beginning I couldn’t really relate to any of them. I almost approached my teachers to point out if we got more efficient, we could probably shave several hours a day off the program and sleep in later. Fortunately something held me back, and I later came to understand efficiency isn’t really what you are going for in energy work. At the time, that was not apparent to me.
The training itself was more talking and less yoga than I had expected, but this suited me. We covered all types of things: the roots of Kundalini Yoga, the awakening of consciousness, yogic anatomy, yogic philosophy, the Aquarian Age, fate versus destiny, and many other topics. And then one weekend, we got to the topic of diet.
I had heard rumors that a 40-day “cleanse” was part of the training program, but I wasn’t expecting it to get assigned the way it did. It was a Sunday afternoon and a couple of hours before we were going to be done for the weekend, the lead trainer, Sat Santokh Singh, said “And starting tomorrow, for 40 days, you’ll clean up your diet. You won’t eat any meat or any processed food. You won’t drink alcohol. And you won’t drink coffee. There is a lot of patterning in food. We aren’t just changing your diet. We are teaching you how to break habits.”
As a class, we then entered into a lengthy discussion about what counts as “processed food” (generally anything in a package with more than five ingredients) and what were the rules about caffeine (I pleaded with them that I had a professional job and could not function without caffeine).
And so on Monday, it began. It turned out I was eating more sugar than I realized so the first week was horrible. Really horrible. I’m a stable person, and I felt totally chaotic and shaky. At one point I was curled up in a ball almost in physical pain, unable to imagine how I was going to get through the day.
They say sugar addiction is like a drug addiction, and I imagine that must be right. I was determined I was going to follow the rules of the cleanse, but I really didn’t know how I was going to get through 40 days. I even did the unthinkable for me and asked for help, messaging my teachers explaining I was really struggling. They replied this was normal, and I’d probably feel better within a few days. And then miraculously, at about day seven, everything started getting better. The fog in my mind cleared, my energy returned, and my mood improved. The cleanse got easier, and interestingly, I observed my thoughts change over the course of 40 days. I became more positive, less anxious, happier. By the end of the cleanse I had decided to stay off sugar for good.
Of everything I was asked to do in Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training, the cleanse was the thing I resisted the most. When it was assigned to us, I argued so much with my teachers, my fellow trainees finally said something to me (stop!). And it was the thing that improved me the most too. I am sure there is a link here. To this day, I’m strict about staying off sugar and have taken it one step further. I’m generally low fructose these days too. I find it helps not just my body but my mind.
It was painful, but in the end, I was grateful for the cleanse. When I look back at the dots that influenced my transition to a new life, I am surprised to find that a cleaned up diet is one of them. The new diet changed my thoughts. It was such an important step in my transition, I’ve actually continued to do it once a year since training. It helps me from getting too far off course.
1.4-1.5 The Bumblebee Incident (Spring 2009)
(As originally published in the Elephant Journal, January 30, 2019)
Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training was not easy for me. It is puzzling because it certainly wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I’ve taken the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, I’ve swam 1.5 miles/2.4 km from Alcatraz to shore, I’ve paraglided solo off (small) mountains. But somehow, the training challenged me in a way I hadn’t experienced before.
It started off basic enough, but as we worked our way through the months, it became harder and harder for me to keep going. This was a surprise, because usually after I make a decision, that’s it. There is almost no internal dialogue about quitting. My total focus goes to getting the job done. Astrologers would say it’s because I was born Scorpio. Myself, I don’t know, but once I decide on something, it is like every cell in my body lines up behind that decision. Moving forward is easy. Quitting is not in my mind. Except in Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training-here my mind fought back.
During the week, I would put off my daily practice until the last possible moment before going to bed. On the weekends, while some people in my class would go to bed early to be fresh in the morning, I did the opposite. I’d stay out late at night drinking and dancing, and in the morning, I would struggle to get up. More than once I came to training tired and hungover, coffee in hand. I started to dread the training weekends and imagining reasons why I couldn’t go. I remember talking to Jessica, a classmate, asking “Why is this so difficult?” She said “I think our brains are changing. And it’s hard….” It was. I could almost feel the gray matter shift.
And then there was the Burning Man bumblebee incident. Burning Man is a week long music and art festival in the Nevada desert that falls around the Labor Day holiday. The experience is amazing, like Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome. It’s wild, hedonistic, mind-expanding, and unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. I started to going to Burning Man in 2000 and by 2008, I had gone eight times.
While the official event is just once a year, in San Francisco the scene is strong, and there are Burning Man parties year round. This I loved. And so one day, after returning from yoga teacher training, I was excited to see an email invitation from one of the theme camps. We were invited, in two weeks time, to dress as bumblebees and meet at a bar in the Mission to go bar hopping all Sunday long.
I was thrilled. My mind raced to how I could create a bumblebee outfit. And then seconds later, my mind stalled out. It said “What are you doing?There are real problems in the world. This is how you are going to spend your Sunday??” It was a shock, like an internal confusion. I literally stalled out in my thinking. It was a weird moment of transition. I wasn’t ready to leave that part of my life. But I wasn’t comfortable staying there either. It was confusing.
In the end, I didn’t go to the bumblebee bar hop. And from that day forward, my attention started to turn from the party scene to other things. Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training finally started to get easier too. The end was in sight, and I regained my focus.
When I trace it back, the bumblebee incident was important. It was when two warring sides of my personality faced each other. I still like to party, even to this day. It is part of who I am. But I like to be introspective, reflective and disciplined too. And that was the moment when I started to find balance between the two. It was an important dot.
1.5-1.6 A Festival in a Field in France (August 2009)
I’ve got to hand it to my Kundalini Yoga teachers-they were right when they said “The students who start teacher training not wanting to teach, those become the teachers.” By May of 2009 when I finally finished my 200 hours, I felt I had gotten so much out of the training that I should pass the knowledge on. Going into the program, I was angry about a lot of things–the circumstances surrounding my father’s death, family dynamics, the behavior of some people in my life at the time, lots of things. But by the end of training, most of my anger had dissolved. I felt light and refreshed, like a new chapter was starting. I didn’t feel like a “real” teacher yet, so I started volunteer teaching at homeless shelters in San Francisco. This worked well for me for my first few months. It helped me find my voice as a teacher with an audience who was forgiving. My homeless shelter students were just happy to have a cheerful, stable person in their environment.
My teachers had warned us that many times people end up with changed relationships after completing Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training. “A lot of relationships are based on mutual dysfunction. Both people have an unspoken agreement not to call each other out on their issues. When you start to wake up, you may find some of your relationships don’t make sense any longer.” I was lucky this didn’t happen to me. My friends saw I was changing and were supportive of the newer version of me. They commented “ You’re still you, you’re just more available.” And on my side, I didn’t care that we were on different paths. I wasn’t looking for company. I just wanted support. So in many ways, my life stayed the same with the same finance job and the same friends surrounding me.
One of these friendships was my college friend, John. We met at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and in 2009, we were both living in San Francisco. When he decide to have a big birthday celebration that year in the south of France, I was excited to join the group. Since I was going to make the long flight anyway, I decided to look around at what else I could do in the area. And as luck would have it, the European Kundalini Yoga festival was happening the week before his birthday celebration. This seemed like a logical extension after my Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training so I signed up.
They really should rebrand these Kundalini Yoga festivals. They should be called bootcamps or maybe yoga prison. When I think “festival,” I imagine food booths, music stages, and a relaxed, party type of environment. This was the opposite. The schedule was brutal. Food was scarce. Showers were cold. Accommodations were crowded. And there was no coffee anywhere.
The basic schedule is to rise in the dark to get to a field by 4:30 a.m. where we all do a morning practice together. The practice lasts two and a half hours and includes chanting, yoga and meditation. You do this every day as a warm up. Then the real day begins.
7:00 a.m. is breakfast, one of two meals of the day, where you get 2 oranges, 2 bananas and a bowl of onion soup. Then the day begins. The days are punctuated by classes, and the these go beyond just yoga. They have classes about family constellations, gatka (an Indian martial art), tantric numerology and more. And then, on the fourth day, begins the real focus of the festival—three days of White Tantric Yoga.
By the end of three days of White Tantric Yoga after rising at 4:00 a.m. all week and eating rationed food, I was exhausted. When I finally left the festival, I felt like I was being released from prison. My first sip of coffee at the train station tasted like paradise.
But while all this was hard, there was one unexpected pleasant surprise. I didn’t realize how much I would love hearing all the different languages around me. Over 2,000 people from all over the world come together at European Kundalini Yoga festival. Everywhere I walked there was a swirl of languages. The festival is conducted in English but for the big classes, everyone is divided by language group. The Germans are by far the biggest group, followed by the French, the Spanish and then the Italians. I loved watching how the German section would be totally organized and silent, waiting for instructions. And how the Spanish area would be in chaos, everyone talking, laughing and passing food. I admired this and tried to sit near the Spanish section as often as possible. There were people from Russia, China, even a few from South America. It was impressive.
Going to France reminded me of how much I enjoy Europe. And the festival reminded me how much I used to love languages.
In high school I had taken French, German and Spanish all at the same time because I liked learning foreign languages and the way it made my brain work. This is not to say I am gifted at languages–I’m not. I was a solid B student in my language classes then and continue to struggle with Greek even now. It is just something I enjoy.
But when it came time for college, I got practical. I was raised in a strict environment and wanted to be free from that forever. Self-reliance became the top priority. So I mapped out what I thought was the fastest path to personal freedom, a college degree in business economics, and pursued that. I didn’t love it but I didn’t mind it either, and I knew it would give me options in my future. Once I started down that path, I just kept going. I finished my degree, passed the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and became a finance person. And for years, this is what I did. The curiosity about foreign language and culture went dormant. But after the trip to France and the festival, my love of languages started to wake up again, and this became a dot in my journey.
1.6-1.7: How I Crafted My Own Study Abroad Program
I had always dreamed of doing a “study abroad” year during college, but I never did. However, in 2009 my love of languages started to wake back up and in 2010, the thoughts I should go to Athens started coming into my head. I began to think about crafting my own personal “study abroad” program.
The thought forming in my head was that I’d study Greek in an intensive program for a month and live in Athens. The plan was very vague, but it seemed within reach. And the idea energized me. I felt like I had worked hard for so much of my professional life that I deserved to do something I wanted and that made me excited.
People ask why I chose Greece and to this day, I have no idea. There were a few random data points. I had been to Greece in 2007, right around when I was splitting up with my boyfriend at the time. We actually had a huge fight about the trip. I thought Greece was beautiful, but I never imagined I would live there. At the European Yoga festival in France in 2009, we were all assigned “buddies” and mine was a very sweet Greek girl, Danae. And in San Francisco, I had briefly dated a Greek guy and became curious about the language listening to him talk on the phone with his family. But I don’t think any of this was what pulled me to Greece. I don’t know what did. But for reasons I can’t explain, it was crystal clear I should go to Athens.
So I began to plan it…
I discovered the Athens Centre, a Greek language school in the Mets neighborhood of Athens recommended to me by a friend. I found an apartment online that was a 20 minute walk from the school and booked it. I worked out where I would leave my three pets while I was away. I told my clients I would be working remotely for one month. Step by step, the plan came together and in May of 2011, I went on my trip.
I arrived on May 1 and began my one-month adventure. I started at zero and each day, my Greek life improved. The first day, I got settled into my apartment. The second day I started school. By the third day, I had made a friend in class. The fourth day, I met a guy on my way to school and, by the fifth day, I had a Greek mobile phone so I could communicate with everyone in my new Greek life. By the end of the first week, I had friends to socialize with, a new guy to date, classes to go to and a city to explore.
The core of the adventure was my Greek language school. I enrolled in the Athens Centre, and my first teacher was Roza Perakis. Roza is inspiring instructor, and her philosophy was that we would learn more if we were having fun. She was relaxed about the rules and encouraged us to enjoy ourselves. It was an entry-level class, but everyone came in with a little bit of knowledge. Adriana had dated a wealthy Greek guy so she knew the word for “yacht” but couldn’t say boat or ferry. Sofie had worked at a restaurant on Naxos so she could count to 40, the number of seats in the restaurant, but no higher. And I had purchased the Rosetta Stone language software, so while I basically didn’t know anything, every now and then, I’d surprise us all with my mastery of a random word or phrase: άλογο! (horse), πάμε για καφέ! (let’s go for coffee!). The classes were a mix of serious study and entertainment.
Weekends included road trips, late nights, even later mornings, new places to go and new people to meet. The month was everything I imagined a “study abroad” experience would be like, and when it was time to return on May 31st, I couldn’t believe the chapter was ending.
May 2011 was an incredible adventure, but also I knew it was a break from regular life. When I returned home I wasn’t really sure what to do next. At this point, I still had no interest in moving to Greece permanently. But after this trip I was intrigued and the idea of returning seemed obvious. So after a little deliberation, I decided to go back for two months in September and October of 2011.
My second trip was totally different. If May of 2011 had every shade on the color spectrum, September and October of 2011 were more monotone. My friends from school had left for their seasonal jobs. The guy I had met had moved to Paris to find work. I enrolled again in language school, but my classmates were different and while I liked them, I didn’t relate to them much. We rarely socialized outside of class. I spent a lot more time alone in my apartment.
But even with these changes, I was happy. I loved being in Athens, and I felt like every day was full of possibility. I was still doing my finance work for my California clients, so this time I focused more on work and began to see what it would be like to live in Athens but work remotely for US companies. The schedule of staying up past midnight to take calls in the San Francisco time zone, 10 hours behind Greece suited me. I liked staying up late and sleeping until 10:00 or 11:00 am. I found my rhythm. When it came time to return again to California, I was sad to leave Athens.
What I learned in these dots was the power of baby steps. My two “study abroad” trips to Greece were important steps because I was building out my comfort zone. If you had asked me in April of 2011 if I would move to Greece in February of 2012, I would have said a clear no. I wasn’t ready. But after two “practice” trips, my comfort zone was bigger. It no longer seemed scary or unknown. I often wonder if people don’t pursue what they want because the thought is too scary, and they haven’t considered a staged approach. I’m a big fan of lots of baby steps. It’s what made the next dot possible for me because in February of 2012, I moved to Greece…
1.7-1.8: How My Dog Launched My Yoga Career
After I got back from my second trip to Athens, I knew that I wanted to return. And while I briefly thought about moving for one year, I had noticed that in my second trip, I felt some low-level anxiety about the idea that I would be leaving soon and that I should make every moment count. It was tiring to live this way. So when I thought the situation all the way through, I decided to just make it a full, permanent move to Greece. This idea excited me. People say I was brave to move to a new country alone, but I wasn’t. I didn’t feel afraid. I felt excited.
I started finalizing all the details. I sold my Audi. I found a long-term tenant for my Hayes Valley condo. For my three pets, I got the vaccinations and travel papers required for them to come with me. I told my clients I would be leaving permanently, and we should find replacements for me. I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to earn money while living in Greece, but I had some ideas of offering remote finance services to California startups. In the end, I didn’t need to pursue this path. My biggest client decided at the last minute that they were OK with me working remotely, so for the first three years of my new Greek life, I was living in Athens but still working as a part-time CFO for an interactive agency in San Francisco. And I said goodbye to my friends, who throughout this whole journey were supportive every step of the way. While sad to see me go, I think they were excited at the idea of coming to visit me in Greece.
I arrived in Athens on February 10, 2012 with two crates of animals, a large suitcase of clothes and a special backpack to carry all my electronics. And so my Greek life began. I had a temporary apartment for two weeks, and then I found my current apartment near Acropolis. I remember when the realtor showed me the roof deck, I was amazed at the idea that I would be able to live there.
In the beginning, I knew only a few people from my prior trips so I was truly building a brand new life. There were good days, and there were hard days. Sometimes I was thrilled to be living in a new country excited to hear the swirl of languages and all the new places to explore. Some days I would go home and cry because it was a struggle to do simple things like buy lettuce at the grocery store. Things like MeetUp became the way I started a social network. And while many things changed in my new home, some things remained the same. Bills had to be paid, groceries had to be bought, meals had to be prepared. I started settling into a routine. I was also spending lots of time online at night with my San Francisco client so I still felt a strong connection to California.
Things were moving along, but my main focus remained on my finance work. I was teaching a bit of yoga, but my classes were small and limited in number. It wasn’t until a few years later that I stopped doing finance work and turned my attention to yoga. Who would have known that the unsuspecting hero in the yoga chapter turned out to be my dog Roxie?
When I decided to move to Greece, there was a big open question of what I would do with my three pets; two cats and a dog. Everything actually revolved around the dog.
Roxie was a special dog, and we had a very unique bond. I found her on a website called Petfinder.com after I accidentally forgot to click the “stay in state” option. She was in Nevada, about a five hour drive from San Francisco. I had looked at probably 400 dogs before getting to her. There was something about the way that she sat looking at the camera that won me over. She had been abandoned and had traits that I don’t always love. She was needy, clingy, jealous and obsessive about me. But she had winning traits too, extreme loyalty, sensitivity, a very sweet nature and naturally polite manners. When we were together, she was perfect. But when we were apart, she would become hysterical, trying to chew her way through the door to find me. I hired pet psychologists, behaviorists, even a pet psychic to try to deal with her issues. Nothing worked until finally I adopted two kittens so she would have company. With her cats, she could finally cope with my absence.
I knew it was all or nothing–either all three came with me or they would stay together in California. There was a wonderful family who had offered to take Roxie, but I eventually decided that no, she was my dog and we would all stay together.
Because of her issues, I was worried about the trip. I researched all possible travel options. We could sail together in a container ship so she could be with me. But it would take a month as we had to sail around the Cape of Good Hope. We could hire a private jet so she could be in cabin with me. But it was going to be $30,000 to go just from San Francisco to New York, and while I believed I could get takers to go with me and split the cost, it still seemed prohibitively expensive. I looked at taking a train across the country and then sailing on the Queen Elizabeth II but she would be in a special “pets” section apart from me anyway. After exhaustive research I decided she would fly cargo on Lufthansa with her cat brothers in the crate next to her. Luck was with me, and the day of the move went smoothly for everyone. Together we began our new Greek life.
A person walking a dog is a social magnet and if you are a single foreign girl walking a dog in Greece, even more so. Roxie became the basis for many of my early neighborhood social connections. “Ah, you have a dog, what is her name, where are you from, what are you doing here, do you like Greece, where do you live, do you want to have a coffee?” and so on. But the real turning point came when I had to go to San Francisco for a visit during my first year in Greece and needed someone to take care of Roxie. She couldn’t stay in a kennel with her issues, so it would have to be someone staying in my home. Maria, the daughter of the family who had the souvenir store downstairs from my apartment took on the role, living for two weeks in my apartment while I was away.
Maria would become a transformative figure in my new life, though I didn’t know it at the time. She stayed for two weeks surrounded by my yoga books and mats and when I returned, she kick started my yoga career. She suggested I go to a yoga studio she knew to see if I could teach there. Next she started a Facebook page Lynn’s Kundalini Yoga to promote my classes. People would come to my classes not even sure why they were there. “Maria sent me. What are we doing?” The community grew step by step, student by student, month by month and is made up today of over 6,000 people from all over the world. I could not have done it alone. But I got the help I needed, and it arrived, via my dog, in the form of a girl named Maria.
This connection extended beyond yoga. Maria and her family became family, and in their honest and unassuming way, they filled holes I didn’t know existed and healed wounds I didn’t know I had. And in this last dot, I’m even officially becoming “family” as I’ll be the Nona (Godmother) for Maria’s new baby Alexia.
And so there you have it, the full, or at least fuller, story of how I came to live in Greece.
It has been interesting writing all this down. It brings up memories I don’t think about much any more and reminds me just how long this journey has been.
I wrote this series for two reasons. The first is that I started to understand many people had a very romanticized idea of my transition. They imagined I just one day decided to leave a perfect San Francisco life and move to Greece. As you can see from this series, that isn’t what happened.
The second reason is more important. This series is for anyone who wants to change their life. My message to you is: you can. I did. I haven’t done anything unusual or remarkable. I took small baby steps and kept moving forward until the path became clear. And by the time the big step came, I was ready. It wasn’t scary. It felt exciting. Anyone can change if they have the tools and are willing to make the journey.
I tried to highlight the dots in the hope you might find something that’s useful in your situation. People sometimes ask how I was able to find my way, despite the dark periods. I think it was because I was able to maintain a sense of myself throughout it all. In this series I’ve written a lot about KundalinI Yoga because it was a transformative tool for me. Another important tool I used during this transformation was the Enneagram System of Personality (a post about that is coming soon), a system I found in my 20s. I can’t trace it to specific dots in this journey, but it was always there, serving as a compass. Because these systems have helped me, I’ve written two books combining Kundalini Yoga and the Enneagram. I wanted to give other people more tools for their journey based on the things that made a difference for me. The books are here.
And now that my story has been written down, I am interested in compiling other people’s journeys. I know I am not the only one who has made a big life transition, and I’m always interested in the many small decision points along the way. So if you have had a big life change, and you are willing to go back and try to “connect the dots,” I’d love to hear from you. We can work together on it. You can message me at email@example.com.
Thank you for reading this. I wish you luck on your way. And if you are taking the path of transformation, trust that you will get the help you need. You will. This I know.