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Marie Forleo: Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching Marie TV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. And today is a very special day because I get to introduce you to someone who’s been a teacher and a mentor in my life. Colleen Saidman Yee is an internationally respected yoga teacher who has been teaching since 1998. Before that, she was a top fashion model with Elite and Ford and also lived in Calcutta working with Mother Teresa. She’s the founder of Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor. And along with her husband, Rodney Yee, other studios in West Hampton and New York City. Colleen has been featured in Vanity Fair, Yoga Journal, New York Magazine, Oprah, Marie Claire, and in allure. In her new book, Yoga For Life, we learn about how she went from a rebellious young woman with a heroin habit to a globe trotting fashion model to, as the New York Times calls her, The First Lady of Yoga.
Marie Forleo: Colleen, thank you so much for being here.
Colleen Saidman…: It is my honor.
Marie Forleo: Oh, it’s my honor. So if you guys don’t know, Colleen has been my yoga teacher for almost 10 years now. Started taking class with you back in 2006. And I have to tell you before I started practicing with you and then with you and Rodney, I liked yoga, but it wasn’t anything that I felt so drawn to. And you have been such a great teacher in my life. Every summer when I come out to practice with you, it’s like you help bring me back to myself. And thank you for that. And I wanted to congratulate you. So Colleen, Yoga For Life, I read this book cover to cover. Brilliant, brilliant job.
Colleen Saidman…: Thank you.
Marie Forleo: It’s wonderful. And something struck me that you said right in the beginning, you start off the book saying, “Know you’re enough.” And you write, “I watch women holding it together, afraid that if they slow down, everything will fall apart. I watch women being ashamed that they’re aging and feeling unworthy of love. Women in my classes, coping with addiction and body and relationship issues, mother issues, competitive issues, and an inability to tell the truth.” I read that and my heart simultaneously broke, because I saw myself in it and it opened up because it was such a sense of relief.
Marie Forleo: When I read the book, I got the sense that you too are on this journey. How have you experienced this idea of, you’re enough, knowing you’re enough? How does that make sense in your life now?
Colleen Saidman…: So interesting, Marie. The first time I heard that phrase was actually a month into writing the book. And I’m like, who am I to write a book? I didn’t even graduate college, for heaven’s sakes. And my agent was like, just every day sit down and write for an hour. Just any story you can think of. So I’m like, all right. We were in Paris, London, Morocco, teaching around the globe. So I was doing that and I was hitting a wall and music is my inspiration, always has been, especially lyrics.
Colleen Saidman…: So I started listening to this Jason Isbell song. And the lyric was, “Cover me up and know you’re enough.” And I was just like, yes, yes, we’re enough. I’ve been running for my whole life, covering up or running or trying to show the world something that I wasn’t, for fear that I wasn’t enough. And it just, like you said, it broke something open in me. And I thought, you know what, I can do this. I have stories to tell and they’re everybody’s stories. Mine in some ways may be more dramatic or in some cases less dramatic, but to have people know A, they’re not alone. And B, they are enough.
Colleen Saidman…: And if we could break the armor at the very first line of my book, it says that if one woman would stand up and tell her story, the whole universe would break open. It’s just like, yes, tear the armor, show the world who you are and give other women confidence to do the same thing. It’s funny, I was scouring the internet one night when I was having a hard time sleeping and watching YouTube videos. And there’s this video of Fiona Apple, and I was mesmerized. She was dancing and singing and it was really jerky. It wasn’t beautiful, it wasn’t graceful, but something in her touched me so deeply. It’s like this woman is wounded and she is not afraid to show that. And I felt like it was like this beautiful Namaste, from my heart to yours. Here I am, I’m dancing. My dance may have a limp, but the dance with the limp is almost more beautiful than a dance without a limp.
Marie Forleo: That’s what I get and that’s why I come back to your class and your work again and again, because I constantly feel that okay-ness in my own self. Now, you’ve been teaching for almost 20 years now, yoga. When you were first getting your training at Jivamukti, you have a story in the book about the fact that you are so into this training, yoga was such a huge breakthrough in your own life, based all the other things you went through. And you walked in and you said, “I just want to do this for my own personal development and my own practice. I don’t want to teach.” Tell us about that.
Colleen Saidman…: It was about two-thirds of the way through the training. And I just had this realization of, I’m not going to do this. I am not going to get up in front of people and teach yoga. I can’t. I’m not going to. And I need to let Sharon and David know that now.
Marie Forleo: And what were the reasons?
Colleen Saidman…: Well, I walked into their office and it was literally almost like they expected me. They’re sitting there and I’m going through my list of reasons why. I just want to let you know now that I have no intention of being a yoga teacher. And these are the reasons. I’m shy. I am not the one to get up in front of the classroom and speak my truth or chant, because I am also tone deaf. So, that’s just not going to work here. And I also have epilepsy. And you never know when a seizure is going to come on. And can you imagine how mortified I would be and traumatized the classroom would be. So I told them all and they listened. And they were very gracious and graceful. And so, I left. And about an hour later I’d get a phone call. It was Sharon. Sharon Gannon, my teacher, my mentor. And she said, “Hello, Colleen. This is Sharon.” Yeah, hello. She said, “You’re teaching my 6:15 class tonight. It’s already sold out. And I’ll be taking the class.”
Marie Forleo: Forget about it. That’s insane. And what did you feel in that moment?
Colleen Saidman…: Horrified. Terrified. I’m just sweating, blind almost. You know those moments when you actually can’t see, hear, think, feel? So, it was three and a half hours of prep. And I went home and I memorized every single word. I still remember the sequence to this day that I taught. I memorized every single word. I think it’s the most nervous I have ever been. But, I got up there. I remember Sharon was in the back, right corner. I remember exactly what she was wearing. It was just so surreal. So I taught the class and I walked out of there high as a kite. It was just so … for some reason, I don’t love the word empowering, but it’s the only word that comes to me right now is it was just so, it was like if I can do this, there’s a lot more possibilities in life that could open up.
Colleen Saidman…: Because I’d put myself in such a shell as a fashion model for so many years, and being exonerated for my external appearance, that my internal life had gotten pretty dilapidated. So to be able to stand up there in front of 75 people, including one of the women that I respect most in the world, and teach a class and walk out and feel like I did a pretty good job for my first class. And I’ve had a lot of unnatural highs in my life. And this one was just amazing. Buzzing from head to toe.
Marie Forleo: So did you really believe when you walked in that room that you would never teach?
Colleen Saidman…: Absolutely. I knew I would never, it wasn’t even a belief. It was solid. It was fact. I was never going to teach.
Marie Forleo: Isn’t that so incredible that another woman standing up seeing something in you beyond what you could see at yourself at that point. And then now I have the benefit and thousands and tens of thousands and millions of people have had the benefit of your teaching. That is really, really incredible.
Colleen Saidman…: Thank you. Yeah. She threw me off the cliff. And she knew she had to do it right away or I was going to turn and run.
Marie Forleo: And that for me in my life too, so many times if I’d been thrown in the fire is when I discover my strength and it’s those people that are willing to push me off the ledge that do it. It’s amazing.
Colleen Saidman…: Absolutely.
Marie Forleo: One of the other questions that I had was around your experience with Mother Teresa. And it so warmed my heart that you are writing these letters to her since you were a little girl. And then 17 years later a letter came back. Can you tell us about that?
Colleen Saidman…: Yeah. I read an article in Life Magazine. Do you remember Life Magazine?
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Colleen Saidman…: Way back when. And it was pictures of Mother Teresa serving the poorest of the poor. And I was, I’m guessing 11 or 12 at the time, and I have five brothers, and was feeling very overwhelmed and I was like, okay, this is the answer. I’m looking at her, looking at the peace and the love, and I was deep into Catholicism as a child as well. And so I just wrote her letters. And I told her all of my problems. And I said, “You might think I’m joking because I’m young, but I really want to work with you.” At the time I thought it was going to be a nun. I hadn’t had sex yet. So the nunnery was still an option for me. And I didn’t hear back. I didn’t really expect to hear back. And then I’d write a couple more times, 54A Circular Drive, Calcutta, India.
Colleen Saidman…: And then yes, 17 years later an envelope came from a woman named Sister Priscilla. And it said, “You are ready to serve the poorest of the poor.” And I’m like, “Whoa.” And it had just come at a time that I had just broken up from a 16-17 year relationship. So it was perfect.
Marie Forleo: And when you got there, that experience of actually doing the work, what did that teach you?
Colleen Saidman…: Concisely, it taught me that the only way to peace is through service. And the nuns taught that day in and day out. Mother Theresa has this beautiful saying, apparently it’s written in her chambers and it says that the fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. And the fruit of service is peace. And it was just so beautiful. The whole time I was there, I had two dresses. And I’d wash one out every night.
Colleen Saidman…: And then wear the other one. And I mean coming from the fashion world where it was all about makeup and designer clothes and the best hair, and I wasn’t ever really as happy as I was in India. I’d shaved my head, I was wearing these really quite ugly, I still have them, they’re hanging in my closet next to my other Herve Leger and whatever else. But, I just found out that I could be happy without all of that extra stuff. I still love the extra stuff, don’t get me wrong, but there is a place deep inside that can be touched. And it is peace and it comes through service. And that was the main lesson. I mean, at one point when I was in India, I was working at this home called Prem Dom, and it’s mainly for the mentally unstable.
Colleen Saidman…: And I was given the assignment to wash a man that had Elephantiasis of the testicles, which is quite a chore. And I’m watching the nuns and could tell it was a test for me. And I realize that I was bathing God and whatever you want to call God, it became a privilege and an honor and I felt peace.
Marie Forleo: The next piece in the book that really got me was about this idea of impermanence. And there’s something that you wrote that again was another moment, I’m reading it and I felt myself wanting to cry. “What’s the use of working so hard? Everything is transitory. My yoga studio won’t last. My students will die. I’ll die. Why bother to wake up every morning and teach yoga? Why bother loving when our loved ones will eventually be taken away from us?” And you shared that you come back to the Mother Theresa quote, “What you spend years creating. Someone could destroy overnight and create any way.”
Colleen Saidman…: Yeah, but that’s the big yoga lesson, really. It’s everything that we put so much stock in is transitory, right? It’s impermanent. And suffering comes from clinging on or pushing away the stuff that’s just changing all around us. So what’s the point of doing anything then if it’s all changing? I mean, that’s this big question.
Marie Forleo: I struggle with that. There’s some times if I’m pushing myself so hard and I’ll crash in my bed and go, “What am I doing this for?” And that’s why this passage moved me so much.
Colleen Saidman…: I think the answer to that is if you don’t, then you fricking sleep through this beautiful life. All we have right now is this amazing moment between the two of us. That’s what we have and that’s real. And that’s now. Whereas, if we’re thinking about something that could happen tomorrow or some remorse from something, we’re not awake, we’re not present. And then we end up, as Mary Oliver said, “What are you going to do with this one precious life of yours?” And we do want to be awake for our life. We want to be present. We don’t want it to be a blur that we haven’t felt, seen, lived, touched, breathe. Just and embraced an enveloped the moment, whether it’s a moment of intense grief or beauty or sadness or joy, it’s the real stuff.
Marie Forleo: It is the real stuff and it is important. And every time I start to feel myself going to that clinging and thinking about Josh or my family or planning for the days that inevitably you’ll know will come, and I come back to this work or come back on my mat on a class with you, and it feels like I get in touch with that piece. And that’s just so important.
Colleen Saidman…: There’s a Mark Twain quote that comes back to me. I’m a worrier. I am a big worrier. I’m here to say I’m working on it. I’ve got the Catholic guilt thing going on and I’m constantly, what if, whatever. But there’s this Mark Twain quote and he says, “I am a very old man and I look back at my life and I’ve had so many difficulties. Most of them never happened.”
Marie Forleo: Absolutely.
Colleen Saidman…: We spend so much, we waste so much energy. And we’re tired enough, right? We don’t need to waste energy there.
Marie Forleo: So the last thing I want to go over with you, I think one of my favorite parts of being on the mat and being in the class with you is always at the end you bring us home. And it’s the talk at the end. And I feel like I walk out and the poses were great, and the asanas were great, and the breathing was great, but there’s something that you always touch on me and I feel like it’s in this book and it’s the Buddhist meditation about fear. Would you read that for us?
Colleen Saidman…: Of course. Of course. Just sit. Notice where you feel hard and sit with that. In the middle of that hardness you’ll find anger. Sit with that. Go to the center of the anger and you’ll probably come to sadness. Stay with the sadness until it turns to vulnerability. Keep sitting with what comes up. The deeper you dig, the more tender you become. Raw fear can open into the wide expanse of genuineness, compassion, gratitude, and acceptance in the present moment. A tender heart appears naturally when you are able to stay present. From your heart, you can see the true pigment of the sky. You can see the vibrant yellow of a sunflower and the deep blue of your daughter’s eyes. A tender heart doesn’t block out rain clouds or tears or dying sunflowers. Allow both beauty and sadness to touch you. This is love, not fear.
Marie Forleo: Colleen, thank you so much for being here today. It was such an honor. Congratulations again on your book.
Colleen Saidman…: Thank you.
Marie Forleo: For everybody watching, Yoga For Life by Colleen Saidman Yee. It is a fantastic, beautiful journey and I highly recommend it.
Colleen Saidman…: Thank you, Marie.
Marie Forleo: Now, Coleen and I would love to hear from you. If there’s one area of your life or your body that would be well served by a little more attention or presence or love, what would that be? Now, as always, the best discussions happen after the episode over at marieforleo.com. So go there and leave a comment now. Did you like this video? If so, subscribe to our channel and we would be so appreciative if you shared this with your friends.
Marie Forleo: And if you want even more great resources to create a business and life that you love, plus some personal updates from me that I only talk about in email, come on over to marieforleo.com and sign up for email updates. Stay on your game and keep going for your dreams, because the world needs that special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for watching and I’ll catch you next time on Marie TV.
Colleen Saidman…: Everything that we put so much stock in is transitory.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Colleen Saidman…: Right? It’s impermanent. And suffering comes from clinging on or pushing away the stuff that’s just changing all around us.