The Art of Living and Sharing Yoga, Elena Brower
Elena Brower is the endlessly grounded (yet endlessly ethereal) yogi you need in your life. Self-aware mama, devoted teacher, inspiring speaker, and creator, Elena has been helping us navigate life with yoga and meditation since 1999. Her ability to unite two opposing forces (the definition of "YOGA") has manifested as some of the the most creative and supportive yogi projects available today — from Art of Attention, to meditation audio courses, to video series on Yoga Glo and the creation of Teach.Yoga, plus ventures in essential oils and a brand new yoga book (that she is drawing and painting up herself) slated to hit shelves next year. Elena's creative reverence is palpable, and we're so grateful to share some of her wisdom here with you.
What has the journey been like to where you are now?
It's been almost 18 years since I've been teaching yoga. I think it’s only been since I turned 40 — I’m 45 now — that I actually like what I've been saying. I really feel as though I have a voice here now. I would say that since my mom died four months ago, it’s all become very clear to me why I’m here. I love my teaching, and I really appreciate the privilege that it is to serve people — to help them know their bodies. I think it’s evolved over time from a purpose of helping myself, and then maybe helping someone else. Now, it’s evolved into this 'I help myself, that is my highest service, and that will help other people.' Taking good care of myself is now priority one. That’s the evolution of it all.
I've studied several different traditions, and I feel like I got a really solid education. When I studied, I received the best of what each tradition had to offer. I got to study with one of the finest Kundalini teachers in the world, one of the best Hatha yoga teachers in the world, and I’m still studying with three of the finest, to this day. I consider myself lucky and just happy to be able to still be a student. That’s my favorite role! Aside from being a mom. It's a privilege that my thought process is having an impact. I’m not afraid to share what I'm going through — Light travels. You can’t miss it.
Somebody just asked me a question the other night about teaching, and I answered, ‘But I’m still such a student!’ That’s what makes me good at sharing. I don’t need to be considered a teacher. To be a great student is very formidable. I’m impressed by good studentship. All my favorite teachers are great students.
I could sit here and talk about the different traditions and the different paths and different roads I’ve taken, but I think that’s the most important point — that yoga has taught me to be a good student, and to take good care of myself, and that’s the best work that I can do, the best service I can offer.
Was there ever a time when you weren’t taking such great care of yourself?
For many, many years. It took a series of 'aha' moments over the course of a couple of years for me to sit with knowing I was completely addicted and I wasn’t willing to admit it — I was having a great time, fully functional, so it was fine. But the minute I took it on and chose to quit and asked for help from a few friends who were poised to help me - that was the minute that I really started to live my fullest life. I didn’t realize how much I was denying myself true pleasure and Light until then. Luckily, that happened over a year-and-a-half ago, so I’ve had some good time with it — a good chance to really respect what it means to live a sober life, and it is just divine. It is so much better.
There are more hours in the day. There are more really satisfying works to do, projects to do, and there’s more time on this beautiful floor to slide down and take it all in for a little while; to sit on the sofa, to have a meditation, and to take care of myself. It has also led to the other obvious more material things, like more money and more abundance in my relationship with my child. There is so much more abundance in that relationship! It’s been really good.
And I think this is a cool conversation to have - it doesn’t mean that you have to do it. It doesn’t meant that you have to jump right in and get sober. What it means is that you have to examine what life feels like when you’re not fully dialed into yourself. When you have a drink, what does that feel like? When you have a smoke, what does that feel like? Are you fully dialed into yourself? Does that even matter to you?
It turned out to really matter to me. For some people, it really doesn’t matter, and that’s perfectly fine. I’ll sit with my friends, I’ll roll their joints — I’m just not going to do it anymore because I know what life is like on the other side. Now I can really serve! I can really teach! I feel comfortable in my own skin. I don’t have to worry about how I look or how I sound or how I feel because I know how I look, sound and feel. It’s a completely different, elevated vantage point.
And being totally present is something to consider. Like I said, you don’t have to make the move right away. When you start having the conversation with your good, close friends — the ones who are willing to have it with you — stay close to them. The ones who are unwilling to have it and say, ‘Oh that’s ridiculous…’ you know that you just don’t have it with them. Take note there.
And above all, I think it’s a conversation that needs to be had more, and opened up more with groups of people, because it’s totally fine if you want to still do your thing and you’re okay with it — that’s great! I’m glad that you can live that way and that your brain works that way! But for some people, and for me for such a long time too, it made me feel crazy living that way. Just knowing what you feel like in your own body and what makes you feel good is such an important conversation to have, and to just be honest about it.
Ally [Bogard] and I sat for many, many, many moons contemplating, ‘Should we? Shouldn’t we? Should we? Shouldn’t we? Let’s just do it again one more time… come on. Just one more time.’ Until, it was time. We did have some very positive experiences, I will say — some of the best. But now, we just have the best experiences without substances.
Though you’ve been living like a yogi for 18 years, what made you finally decide to make these changes in your life?
All this time I’ve been teaching yoga, trying to stick to the premises and tenets of the practice. I wasn’t doing such a hot job of it until I got sober. I had a really bad temper. I still have a temper every now and again, but it’s nothing like what it was — I am no longer a slave to my emotional tumult. It’s been an 18-year journey, and only now do I actually feel like I’m living a life that’s indicative of actual practice. It’s only been three years since I’ve had a daily meditation practice. It’s only been this year-and-a-half, plus a little more, where I feel like I’m actually connected to myself consistently, not just some of the time.
What has that done for your relationships, too? Not just with yourself, but with your child and your partner?
I do my best. I don’t know if I’m the best mother, but I definitely do my best. I’ve had improvements on all levels with my relations. I work with a group in NY as a client and a coach, and last summer we did something called "parent letters" as a client; I wrote and read a letter to both of my parents, separately, with my coach. Those letters are really about apologizing to your parents for all the things you’ve been holding against them for so long, and reconnecting to them as an adult entity, not so much as a petulant child. That was some of the best healing ever.
No matter what I have or don’t have in this life, that hour-and-a-half spent with each of them can never be erased — it can never be taken from the three of us. My mom died with that cleared up, which is so good.
Jonah, my son, and I recently did a talk together at Wanderlust Speakeasy in Thredbo, Australia. We did very little preparation together — I prepared myself and at certain intervals in time, and I would just bring it up to him. We were on another trip prior to that one, and I would bring it up by saying, ‘So, we’ll go through a few sections, and I’m going to write something that you can say and if you want to change it, you can change it before you say it. Then we’ll go through this section, and this section, and this section…’ I would read to him the outline of what I had, and he’d sort of say, ‘Well, you know, maybe you should add this part, and take away that part.’ For the three weeks prior to the talk, we didn’t prep anything. But he did such a good job! And he’s only nine-and-a-half. He slayed it. I was so proud.
How has your relationship with Jonah changed over time?
Luckily, it’s been about five years now that I’ve been working with my coaches, and from minute one, it was about, ‘Tell the truth to children — it doesn’t matter how old they are, or what you think they can or cannot handle.’ If you lie to your children, they’re going to know. Their souls know at this deepest heart of things that you’re not telling the truth, and they have to live with this conflict inside of them, as much as you have to live with it inside of you. This was big for me.
From minute one, I was getting coached to check in with him nightly and see what I could be doing better — I’ve been giving him a voice since he was four years old. Sometimes, I’d act like a jerk, and he always had a chance to tell me. Now he feels safe in the world. He feels comfortable. He feels like he has a voice, and he travels quite a bit to come hang out with me on work trips, which seems to be helping him be aware and awake.
Does he practice?
No, but one time when we were in Bhutan this past summer — and I’ve never asked him to do yoga, never, ever — he said, ‘Oh mom, I want to take your class today!’ I was like, ‘Cool! Let’s set out a mat.’ He did the practice for maybe 45 minutes, and then by the end, he was in savasana and passed out.
He sits and listens to yoga all the time. We just did a class upstate yesterday and he was sitting in the corner chilling. He's my hero.
Has he said anything to you that was super surprising when asking him for feedback?
Just that I shouldn’t be such a jerk. What shakes me and makes me so proud every time, is when he gives me constructive feedback, because we’ve had this conversation many times, so instead of having him ask for what he doesn’t want, I’ve encouraged him to ask for what he does want.
So instead of saying, ‘Mama, don’t do this anymore,’ he says, ‘Mama, you could have been a little more kind, you could have been a little more calm.’ The other day, he was reading a book that I don’t find to be perfectly intelligent, and I said, ‘Oh that’s the crappiest book ever.’ He responded, ‘Mom that really hurt my feelings!’ I apologized of course, ‘Oh god, dude, I am so sorry! That was so crass and thoughtless of me. I really am sorry.’ I just said that because I’m currently reading All the Light We Cannot see by Anthony Doerr, and wowzers. It’s nothing like the Goosebumps horror series he’s reading. I felt bad for judging his book. But now, he’s asking me about it and stops me in the middle of what he’s doing and asks me where I am in the book. It’s about World War II, so I’m teaching him about the war from the perspective of these two kids that the narrative follows.
He was able to tell me how he felt in the nicest way, and I was able to apologize, and we moved on. That’s communication and honesty. That’s exactly what we should be doing in all of our relationships.
What elements do you think we should be communicating more of?
Saying you're sorry, forgiving, and moving on. Don't hold anything in. You know what that does to us? It just makes us into jail keepers, which means we work in a jail everyday — and it’s dark in there. It’s about opening up a dialogue and asking somebody for help.
Let’s say there’s a relationship that you want to fix — ask somebody else for help to be a mediator. It can be somebody like me who’s a coach, and you can sit down with them until things get resolved. Have a little session. Have the intention to get the communication a little more clear. Have the aim of the session be in creating an open dialogue and a clear, safe space where more love can flow. See how everybody feels about that. Then, that space is created, and then one person gets to talk and say everything that’s on their mind, while the other person takes notes.
Acknowledge every cloud that’s passing over the sun in the moment, whether it’s true or not true. Then the person who was taking notes can say, ‘I heard you say that you feel this way and that it’s really hard…’ Because hearing your own thoughts parroted back to you by somebody that you care about, and whom you think is not hearing you, softens everything.
I’ve taken Jonah through that with friends when they get into riffs. I’ve walked them through all of that together, and when their moms are watching, everybody’s always floored at how fast the space gets clear, just because somebody didn’t feel heard, but now they do — they realize that what they were saying isn’t what they really mean, but now they’ve been heard, so they feel a lot better.
It’s all just about good communication, and honesty, and non-judgment.
For me, I can have a million reasons for why I do certain things. But it gets to a point where enough is enough already, and I have to just say, ‘I did it, I’m sorry.' Why bother to defend it longer? Most of that softened once I got clear of all the marijuana and all the misunderstanding that was in my way for so long.
There was always this slice of me that was hiding from the world in that way. And now that I have nothing left to hide, it’s very easy to be in good communication with whomever is in my space.
What are some other walls you’ve faced recently and how do you work to tear them down?
I work hard. I think the last wall that’s come down was about seven months ago, and it was my wall to financial abundance. I finally went full-on into a network marketing business that has completely changed my life, and has empowered me to empower other women to believe in money and abundance, and now we have over 1000 people from all over the world on my team, earning money, happily and fearlessly falling in love with themselves as business owners, as empowered beings on the planet who deserve to shine as brightly as anybody else.
I am so grateful for that and I think that was the last wall that I needed to burst through. It was making me uncomfortable.
Now, I see that my work can be infused with spirit, and my spirit can be infused with my work, and the two need not be mutually exclusive, and I can and should be making good money. I want to be giving money, I want to be saving money, I want to be spending money. I want to be taking care of my family. There are so many things I want to be doing, and now I can do those things on my own.
What is a typical day in the life of Elena Brower like?
I have a pretty set schedule within the confines of my home-based business. Monday mornings until two or three o’clock, I’m on calls for dōTERRA; calls, meetings and online forums with my team. Then in the afternoon, Jonah gets ready for piano, and then he goes downtown to his Dad’s where the piano teacher is, and then Daddy brings him back up to me, and we're all very close so we have a nice Monday night hang out. James, my boyfriend, will be there too.
On Tuesdays, up until this week, I’ve been teaching a class at noon, so I’ll do Oils in the morning, and then I'm with Jonah. Sometimes I’ll do a little bit of work after I pick him up, but not often.
On Wednesdays I usually take a class, do a little bit of work, but not a huge amount. And I’ll do a facial, or acupuncture, or something for myself. Thursdays are work, work, work. It could be working on my book, or it could be Oils, or whatever is needed. Sometimes I have to write something for Teach.Yoga for the following week that has to go out.
Fridays are always yoga in the morning, and then anything else that’s needed to be scheduled during the week. But by then, it’s pretty set, and I know when I have things to do and when I don’t.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
A veterinarian, and then I learned that I couldn't handle blood, so that was that. Then I thought I would be a fashion designer. I did that for seven years — I graduated from Cornell with a Bachelor of Sciences in Textiles and Apparel, minor in Art History, and worked in the textiles and clothing business for almost eight years, full-time, and then freelance while I studied yoga. I lived in Italy for a couple of years as an assistant designer as well. I couldn't have had a better time. But a year into that, I just realized that I wanted to help people. It’s such a cyclical business, and it’s tough to sustain.
I now have a dear friend who’s a really well known stylist, and she and I are tossing around the idea of making a yoga line. Mara Hoffman is a longtime friend of mine, and I'd love to do something with her in that space too. I really like the service business and I love working with Essential Oils because it’s helping so many households to veer away form very toxic forms of healthcare, and towards something that’s more natural and holistic. Watching all that has been great, and feeling the change in my own body too.
How did you get into Oils? How have they changed your body and your life?
It was probably 18 years ago when I first smelled Essential Oils. Then in 2002, a girl handed me a bottle at a yoga studio and said, ‘Oh you should try this!’ She ended up becoming the manager of my yoga studio for over a decade. When I smelled it, I fell in love instantly and I’ve been using Oils ever since.
I started using them on my hands and my face. I now have a stack of books on how to use them, the cellular functions and the emotional components as well. I study a bit almost every day.
How did the Art of Attention come into being?
Erica Jago, who did the design for the book, had the idea to take a handful of my YogaGlo classes and set them to pictures. We had different photographers take the photos for each Chapter, and there was sort of a different look to each one. Then, a dear friend of mine, Raja Sethuraman at Gloss Studios, did all the finishing work on it. Initially it felt like five different books, but he pulled it into one whole piece and gave it the look and the feel that it has.
What’s the book you’re working on now?
It’s called Practice You. It’s a journal — like your favorite journal that you’re never going to want to use because you know the lines will run out. I’m planning for it to come out late 2017, early 2018. I could work on this art all day, forever.
What are some tools you use to practice ridding of something that’s no longer serving you?
The only thing you ever have to do is just exit elegantly, be graceful, and try to figure out what you’re grateful for when it’s time to change something up.
What is your idea of legacy?
The first words that come to mind are Gratitude, Service, and Love. That would be a great legacy — that fits everything. I like that.