If you are coming here for the first time, you have entered part 6 in a series about aspiring and experienced yogis’ journeys. I hope that you enjoy it and follow along. Namaste!
I met Elena two years ago when I walked into her HPF class. I instantly felt at peace by her soothing voice and her nurturing spirit! I never experienced an immediate calming reaction to a person like that before. I returned and took Elena’s class whenever possible. She is both a life coach and a yoga teacher, two roles that could not fit a person more perfectly!
Yogi: Elena Sonnino
Studios: Beloved Yoga, Wheelhouse Yoga, and in-home private practice
Q: Who or what influenced you to take up yoga?
A: I never really liked yoga, other than when I was pregnant with my daughter. I had a difficult time being still in Savasana. Then one day, I started to feel and appreciate the benefits of it for the first time during a hiking and weight-loss retreat in British Columbia. I returned home with a DVD from the instructor. For a year or so I only used that DVD and sought out classes when I was on travel – until I found a local studio to regularly practice. The big shift for me came when I stopped focusing on yoga as a workout and embraced it as a daily practice.
Q: How long have you been practicing yoga?
A: I am a baby yogini. I practiced the physical asanas when I was pregnant in 2004 and then started to cultivate a practice in 2014. It wasn’t until 2016 that it became part of my everyday life. My first introduction to yoga was hatha style, then power vinyasa, and eventually I found my way to yin yoga and even Kundalini yoga.
Q: What aspect of practicing yoga are you most passionate about and why?
A: Yoga offers me a mirror whether I am studying, focusing on pranayama, or moving my body with asana – to unearth and attune to what is within me. Pema Chodron wrote, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
The idea that our body and our deepest self, come to us as benevolent messengers, inviting us to recognize and learn what we need to know is the essence of yoga for me, whether it is vinyasa, yin, or even kundalini. It is a practice that invites us to explore and reveal that which is hidden. It is an opportunity to notice that what is practiced is also reflected. It is a practice that focuses on and highlights self-compassion instead of self-improvement.
Q: What keeps you coming back to your mat?
A: My mat is one of my best teachers for acceptance. My mat reminds me that each day is a new day, and what happened the day before or what may happen the next day doesn’t really matter. Each practice allows me to notice the shifts in my balance — the subtle ways my body reacts, and the deeper qualities of my breath from one day to another.
Q: What aspect of practicing yoga do you find most challenging and why?
A: Challenge looks different on different days. In the early days of my vinyasa practice, approaching inversions and arm balances felt like my biggest challenge. I was insecure about my own strength and it was hard to detach from the outcomes when it felt like everyone around me made it look so easy. Aparigraha, non-attachment, in general, is an aspect of yoga that is both my favorite and perhaps most challenging. Even when I believe that I’ve approached a moment with curiosity and willingness, one of my daily practices is to notice and observe sensations, emotions, and thoughts so that I can catch myself when subtle attachments to expectations creep up.
Another aspect that has been challenging, is creating an at home practice for myself as a daily tool. Even though I know that yoga is more than the physical shapes we take on a mat, it took me a long time to allow myself to explore diverse styles and practices at home and tune in to what I needed rather than following the herd.
Q: What is most fulfilling for you in your yoga practice?
A: Connection to my inner source is what is most fulfilling for me in my practice. Sometimes that comes through breath work, sometimes it finds me in a shape on the mat, and sometimes it finds me in meditation. It is during those moments that I feel connected to something deeper and I can feel the energy in my body that makes my heart smile. I smiled a lot the first time I flew in crow pose or went upside down, supported by a wall.
Q: How long have you been teaching yoga? Who or what influenced you to become a teacher?
A: I completed my teacher training and started guiding practices in 2016. The thing that drew me to want to teach was my life coaching practice. In my own self-work, I’d integrated so much of what I knew as a life coach with my personal yoga practice and I wanted a way to bring the two together. I had been an elementary school teacher for 12 years, and there is something about being a guide and facilitator that energizes me, so the symbiotic relationship felt like a perfect way for me to blend my strengths and passions.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of teaching yoga and why?
A: Creating and holding space for practitioners to have their own experience with their body, their breath, and their mat. I consider myself a guide more than a teacher and like to invite individuals in my yin and vinyasa classes to attune to the inner strength and wisdom that is always within them.
Q: What is your least favorite aspect of teaching yoga and why?
A: When I first started teaching, my own practice changed. At first, it was hard for me to find time for my own practices, and then even when I did make it to my mat it felt like a part of me was always considering how the practice could inform my role as a teacher. It took a while, and to some degree, a change in the style of physical asana to help me ground into a practice that felt sustainable and nourishing just for me.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to a new yoga teacher?
A: Find the time and commit to your own practice. Be willing to explore and to study, to ask questions and look for answers within the sacred texts and in yourself.
Q: Who or what influenced you to become a life coach?
A: I’d always been a guide, asking questions and holding space for others. It was insights over time ranging from my experience surviving Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, my work as a classroom teacher, divorce, marathon running, learning to surf, and eventually, a chance encounter and experience with a massage therapist in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and a paragliding experience that same weekend that brought everything together. Soaring through the air with the birds, attached to my co-pilot, I noticed how it only took subtle movements to change direction – and knew! It wasn’t about a destination as we flew. It was about noticing. It was about letting the wind move us and fully experiencing each shift with gratitude and wonder. By the time I reached the landing zone, I had decided to embrace the nudges and set off to find a training program to study with, and claim my role as a life coach!
Q: How long have you been a life coach? What is your favorite aspect of being a life coach?
A: I trained with the Martha Beck Institute in 2016 and I have worked with clients one-on-one and groups since that same year. I have spoken with a variety of groups and led workshops and retreats, which always energizes me. My favorite aspect is when a client tunes in to an inner realization based on a question that I asked or an invitation that I offered. Being a witness to my clients as they show up for themselves with vulnerability and willingness is like a gift.
Q: How does being a life coach tie into your yoga practice and being a yoga teacher?
A: The two are very symbiotic to me. I try to create experiences whether they are yoga or coaching related that invite individuals to connect with themselves. The ideas or themes that I find myself exploring with my clients are the same ones that I offer as intentions in my classes and for myself in my own practice.
BONUS ROUND 😃: Do you have any exciting projects in the works?
A: I am launching a new podcast called Sunrise in Your Pocket on October 8. Everyone needs a nudge now and then to help them get back on track to feeling joyful, vibrant, and alive in the now. Sunrise in Your Pocket is your weekly podcast for playful, easy to implement guidance for reconnecting to the inner strength and wisdom within you. You can sign up here to the be the first to know when it goes live!