Sinclair: In terms of being a business owner, badass, and owner of one of the dopest places of healing ever, how did you get to where you are today?
Sarah: By putting one foot in front of the other– even when I didn’t know how or, in fact, especially when I didn’t know how. You know that scene in Lord of the Rings when they step out into thin air and, only then, a safe path of stepping stones appears? To me, that is the test of risk taking when moving beyond my comfort zone.
By daring to have faith when there is no indication that I should move forward; that is when new possibilities arise.
There have been so many times when I should have walked away down a safer path. Only by stepping out into the unknown did my path appear.
Sinclair: How do you want people to feel after leaving Yoga Tree?
Sarah: Although many yoga students may show up to take care of an achy back, they often end up taking care of a deeper need. My intention is that people leave feeling more themselves than when they walked in.
What someone gets out of a class or a healing session at Yoga Tree can be so many different things: flexibility, of course; and strength, wisdom, a sense of calm, renewed energy, freedom (in body, mind and/or spirit), balance, acceptance, acknowledgement, being honored exactly as they are, or challenged to be more.
By allowing each person their unique experience – and not imposing my agenda – there is a greater potential for a broader change in the individual and the community that ripples out to change the world.
Sinclair: What’s the best part about going to work each day?
Sarah: Without a doubt: the people. It is such an honor to be trusted with this part of a person’s life journey. I also love all of the people I work with. I get to interact and explore life with the most amazing people in Baltimore.
Sinclair: Where do you hope to see Yoga Tree be in the next 365 days?
Sarah: This is the year for us to deepen our roots and not focus on overstretching our reach. We are scheduling more of the things our current students love: workshops and community collaborations, in addition to monthly book club meetings and regular blog posts. I am so grateful to have this clear aim for this year.
Sinclair: I’ve taken several hot yoga classes recently and have been met with kindness and grace by your instructors. What’s your philosophy when it comes to building and fostering a solid team and positive work environment?
Sarah: I believe in the Law of Attraction and, at the same time, my style is influenced by an early read in my business life: Good to Great, by Jim Collins. How do I reconcile that?
The Law of Attraction states we attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on, so I believe that the right people find me and Yoga Tree and then we work with what we have.
On the other hand, Jim Collins writes in regard to how to steer a company: “…leaders of companies start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people…”
By really knowing what Yoga Tree’s company culture is and hiring people that are a good fit, and then putting them in the position that allows them to shine their amazing unique light makes the rest of it easy. When it’s right, it’s easy!
There have been so many times when I should have walked away down a safer path. – Sarah Ittmann Leite
Sinclair: What’s the last thing you and your team did for fun?
Sarah: Argh! I love my team and I have lots of fun with them individually, but we struggle to get together outside of work as we are made up of a dozen part-time staff. We have a yoga/hike outing planned and I am researching an amazing retreat on the Eastern Shore, so this is the year for fun!
Sinclair: What’s something people often get wrong about healing?
Sarah: Wow! Great question. I think the greatest misunderstanding around healing is around time and the finish line. It’s easy to presume that there is an end goal on the journey towards health.
Why would we presume otherwise? If we go to a doctor and need to take a course of antibiotics, once we finish the two weeks, we are healthy again. The time and the goal are clear.
With the deeper inner healing that we delve into with the healing arts of yoga and meditation, we are undoing old history that has been stored in our bodies from the life we have lead up to this point and in our DNA from the history of wellness or illness we have inherited.
Moving through that deep healing is not a “cure” that we can put a timeframe on. Healing can be a work of a lifetime.
Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn?
Sarah: My actions do not have to please everyone all the time. As I write that, I want to erase it, as it sounds crazy that a person (me!) would even have to think that through, let alone stop trying to live that way. I have found it to be a sneaky and challenging behavior to unlearn. So many people benefit from being around a people pleaser.
There is a wonderful reinforcement to continue making everyone else happy. In fact, people are a little cranky when the shift begins– and I get it! When you rely on things being a certain way, it can be disappointing to not get your needs met in the same old way. This has been a healing process that I noticed I needed to begin when I was in my early 20s.
Trying to please others is still my default nature that I slip into, and one aspect that I will continue to practice navigating gently away from.
Sinclair: Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?
Sarah: I go to my husband, Henri. He teaches yoga with me at Yoga Tree and handles a huge portion of the way the studio runs smoothly. Even with so much background information, when I come to him for support, he doesn’t over-analyze the little details or harp on the past.
He is great at meeting me where I am. He listens more than talks. He inspires me to take a break from a problem I am coming at too intently, or reminds me that the answer is within me.
Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?
Sarah: Finding balance.
It’s easy to presume that there is an end goal on the journey towards health. – Sarah Ittmann Leite
Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?
Sarah: I’m an expert at self-care! I love to soak in a hot bath full of Epsom salts and essential oils. Herbal teas are a great chance for me to settle my mind or energy. I buy those from Jenny Erhardt at her herbal shop in Hampden: Zensations by Jen. She helps me to find the right blends for what I need at that time.
I also do yoga and meditation at home, or I take a class at Yoga Tree if that fits my schedule that day. Taking care of myself is an important part of my job!
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?
Sarah: Playing with our five-year old son. Lately, we are doing a lot of improv and creative storytelling. He has a toy car that he started to pretend is a phone. We take turns pretending to receive a phone call on this toy.
The fun part is getting fully into it. When I am listening to the pretend phone, I nod and say “mhmm,” and make lots of intrigued (and exaggerated) facial expressions. He will be so intrigued and invested in my reactions that it’s amazing to really ham it up and see where it takes us.
We alternate who is on the phone. It’s so fun to sit on the edge of my chair and wait until he’s done and shout, “what did he say?” and watch his face as he composes an elaborate story.
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?
Sarah: Politics, ethics, human rights, being afraid to be a strong woman for fear of being labeled a strong woman. Why can’t I just be considered a strong person? I could go on…. and I will, but I’ll save it for a blog post!
Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you during your career and life journey?
Sarah: My decision to slow down this summer has brought me tremendous self-doubt. Last year (September 2017-June 2018) was one of the busiest years since opening my studio. I did so many challenging and exciting things that I didn’t know I could do. I smashed some of my previously unreachable goals.
During that time, I felt so validated. Coming off of that schedule and focusing on my smaller and more daily goals (of this plan to grow deeper and not higher in the upcoming year) has been a let-down.
My adrenaline likes to kick in and when I make plans that are more balanced and slow moving, I have more quiet and space for reflection that can allow doubt and self-judgment to show up. The voices like to creep in and say, “Is this enough?” Or “why aren’t you trying harder?”
Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?
Sarah: The Sanskrit word “Aparigraha” refers to non-attachment, or the more literal translation is “non-grasping”. It emanates into many arenas of life, including being accepting of what is happening in a yoga pose today and not comparing it to someone else’s yoga pose, or even judging it against our yoga pose yesterday, last week, or last year.
It also points to being patient with how quickly life is giving us what we want from it. This would be: “non-greed,” or being happy with what we have. My favorite version of the translation is “non-attachment”. To take action and not be attached to the outcome is an essential element of The Alexander Technique.
Rather than focusing on the end goal, we focus on the means we apply to getting there. In The Alexander Technique, we teach how to rewire the brain-body connection so that we can find a new approach to small tasks and this eventually changes the fabric of our motivation and response cycle which, in turn, quiets the mind and allows the right thing to unfold.
Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people in Baltimore’s wellness community that we should follow and why?
Sarah: I know this one! Baltimore is full of amazing massage, acupuncture, and other transformative body and energy workers.
I’ll share the ones I see regularly:
- Martha at Full Moon Acupuncture is a gifted healer in so many ways.
- Massage from Kate Fleming at Live Well Be Well I see her once or twice a month to really create a change. Jonathan is amazing too!
- Just recently started to see Molly Farwell Gavin for cranial sacral therapy and will make that a monthly part of my self care.
- For Alexander Technique I see my teacher and mentor, Nancy Romita
- Jes Raschella is fantastic for Tai Massage
- Lainie Smith at Metta is great
- For herbal teas Jenny at Zensations by Jen
Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?
Sarah: Clarify what your dream is. I see so much potential for lateral movement in life that “giving up” on a dream can really be a clarifying call to a new dream. If you are deeply unhappy and full of doubt, your inner wisdom is trying to tell you something. When you know WHY you are aiming for a goal, often WHAT you are aiming for shifts and changing that aim is not failure; it is the polishing of one’s craft or calling.
Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work. What’s your five word acceptance speech?
Sarah: Thank you for this opportunity.
Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?
Sarah: Practice some element of quiet or stillness which allows you to hear your inner wisdom. Stay connected to that. When you are feeling off track, ask for help and then continue to delve into finding your own recipe for life. You do not need anyone else’s secret sauce. Trust yourself.
Sarah Ittmann Leite found a transformative path towards healing when she began a regular yoga practice in 1996. By 1999, she was certified and began teaching and practicing yoga daily. In 2004, Sarah opened Yoga Tree (formerly Bikram Yoga Hampden), in 2010, her husband, Henri Leite, became a certified yoga teacher and joined her in running the business. Sarah has continued to strive for greater knowledge of self in order to strengthen her role as a guide to others on their journey. She holds a Master’s in Transformative Leadership and Social Change from Tai Sophia, (now known as MUIH: Maryland University of Integrative Health) and is a certified Alexander Technique Teacher (graduated from AT MidAtlantic). She lives with her husband, son, and a pet goldfish. Sarah runs Yoga Teacher Training programs, continues to teach a wide variety of yoga styles, teaches the Alexander Technique, and directs Yoga Tree towards new and wonderful growth. Instagram. Website.
☀️ Featured Awesomeness ☀️
Sarah says, “Please come and try a month of Yoga and Pilates at Yoga Tree for just $39. Also, take 20% off a drop in or any class cards with offer code TRYUS20. Offer can only be used once.”