Virginia Heyburn is a successful corporate executive and a revered yoga teacher. Her 9:30 am, Saturday, heated Power Vinyasa class in Coral Gables is packed. In a city that sleeps in, it is testament to this powerful teacher.
I wanted to find out more about what sparked the fire in Virginia and what led her on a personal journey to find balance, peace and purpose on and off the mat.
INTERVIEW WITH VIRGINIA HEYBURN
How and why did you begin practicing?
I began practicing yoga after what I perceived to be a very difficult time in my life, following my divorce many years ago. Looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. At the time, however, I was filled with fear and anger, leading to anxiety that left me struggling to care for myself and my children in the way I wanted to. I wasn’t showing up in my life in a powerful way and accepting what it was I was facing at the time. The instant I landed on my yoga mat the first time during this personal crisis, I felt instantly at home in my own body and inner space. At first, I felt this intense sense of belonging and peace only when I practiced yoga. Then I started to feel it at home, at the grocery store, in my daily life. Yoga gave me a glimpse of a simple universal truth that we can all relate to: the only moment that is real is the one we are living in right now. And I’m going to choose always to make the very best of it – no matter what.
How has your practice enhanced your life?
Yoga connects me to the best version of me and allows me to show up more powerfully in my own life and the lives of everyone around me. The purpose of yoga is to calm our minds and when I do calm my mind, I can see events and people for what and who they are and not what and who I want them to be. Yoga helps me drop perceptual constraints and self-limiting beliefs like hot potatoes so I can flow more easily with life’s currents. This is not to say that I don’t feel sadness and anger and loneliness from time to time. I do! The difference now is that I’m not so attached to the story around those emotions and I can allow them to pass through me more quickly. By not running away from these emotions, by giving myself permission to sit in them, I can develop compassion for others and can hold space for them in an empowering way, as opposed to an enabling way that only leads to more suffering. This has been a remarkable gift in raising my children to take command of their own lives.
You mentioned today that in the yoga training you notice your thoughts, can you expand a little on this and how it lead you to a better understanding of yourself?
I spent a week in contemplation as part of a program to deepen my yoga training. Contemplation is different from unbridled thinking in that the former eventually creates freedom from suffering while the latter creates storyline after storyline of thoughts that create attachment and suffering. Contemplation is an important aspect of our yoga practice because it cultivates keen discernment and allows us to transform bad habits into good habits. During my week of contemplation I realized that I have the choice at any moment to be aware that my thought is simply a thought and not who I am. Importantly, it is not who another person is either. For example, if I am having a conflict with my husband or a friend, I can think “oh that person is being a jerk” and then become aware that I have just had a thought and choose to drop it. The conflict ends when I communicate powerfully how I feel about the situation and then disengage from destructive thoughts that lead to self-judgment and judgment of others.
Lastly, I loved the lottery question that you asked your class this morning, “if you could do anything tomorrow” — what led you to asking yourself this most important question?
I am planning on retiring from my corporate job in three years and it has been a decision a long time in the making. How will I care for myself and my family financially? Is it wise to give up a career that is 20 years in the making? Will I still be the same person? I’ve been so busy keeping my costume of identity on straight that I didn’t listen to the call of my heart to do what I love. In my week of contemplation I asked myself, “If I were to win the lottery tomorrow, what would I do?” The answer was very clear to me: I would leave my corporate job like a bat out of hell – and I would still show up on Saturday to teach yoga. We have to live our dharma, know our zip code, find our swim lane – in other words, go to the place we belong and live out loud. In this space we are connected to ourselves and to others where we can offer our highest possible contribution.