Terri Stafford: A Mindful Teacher Driven By The Simple Messages Of Yoga
Updated: Jun 18
Her humor and positive outlook on life has led her to pursue a path that was never expected—yet much needed. As an instructor in yoga, her ability to create a safe space where people are encouraged to find joy, is uplifting. Terri has thrived through life challenges, and has always found a way to move forward. Even now amongst a global health crisis, she has found a way to continue helping people by creating that safe space in her very own backyard. She is teaching her neighbors social distancing yoga in the outdoor courtyard because she saw how many people were feeling anxious, worried and upset about their health because they were not able to go out and do their normal wellness routines during the stay-at-home orders caused by COVID-19. This opportunity was just another path Terri took to feel more grounded, positive and a way to help others. As I chat with Terri, I begin to learn how she develops new pathways to success by just being present and grateful. Our conversation is built upon her perspective on how to listen to our own mind before taking advice that doesn't serve us.
"The beauty of any kind of teacher, is that they have a purpose to help others and a philosophy that they want to share."
I found that I’m driven by lifting people up, and for the first time I have the success of feeling like I’m giving back the most. I was in a dark place and with never an exposure to yoga in my life, ended up learning that it wasn't really the physical practices that I was attracted to, it was the principles behind the yoga that became my awakening, because it became the thing that really spoke to me.
Yoga started with no physical movement, and these principles were written by the tribe elders to teach us we need to let go of material things, our anger or even some emotions. These principles sounded so simple and relatable to me, because it's about what’s within you. Seems like such an easy concept but it's hard work, and gave me the focus I needed in my life to turn my thinking around, or to just let go. We are all constantly exploring ourselves and to understand at the greatest level is being content by showing gratitude, which has completely changed my life. If you live your life in a constant form of scarcity, you will never feel the presence of abundance. Those principles were so transformative that I wanted to share it with others.
The 10 Principles of Yoga
6. Worship of the spiritual goal
7. Sacrifice the ego
How do you use these principles in your class?
All these things, how can it not shift you in a way that's good? To bring these messages to people is my passion, and feel that maybe I can help change their life for the better. I am all about holding space in my classroom, because I recognize that everyone comes to a yoga class for a different reason. I may not know what is happening, but I know that the people who attend need something from the space and at times seek permission to connect, release or even take a hard look at a situation and challenge themselves without judgement. So this space is about healing and introspective, so creating that experience for me is a privilege. I feel like I make a difference everyday and it doesn't matter what’s happening in my own life because it's the moment where it's about everyone else. All of that fills me up spiritually.
How do you look at gratitude or contentment?
I learned to look at the world differently, the universe holds us and we get what we get when we need it, and what I get is in me and I don't have to keep chasing or grasping for it. Our gratitude muscle is the most important to keep healthy because it's our path to joy and so we need to be patient with the process. I always say that presence is a gift, nothing happens before or after, and it is always in the now. Too many people continue to look forward or back, but we have to realize that everything is temporary. So attaching to things that cause you pain just doesn’t serve you. We are all connected now, especially with the current health crisis, and in a way we are physically connected, so anything that happens to one part of our society happens everywhere..there is no difference. Our energy is intertwined, especially at this moment and our thoughts impact everyone. There is the Eastern way of thinking that there is no me, and our Western society keeps thinking of me.
Can you share some powerful moments that have happened in your class?
When I design a class, I pick a theme, and if I'm talking about power from within I want music and words that support that. People will release and react sometimes in different ways and it's amazing. I have people regularly come up to me and emote in some way that they had an experience. One week my theme was about strength and adversity. I remember this woman who had never taken my class before had come up to me after and said that she had to give me a hug. She began to sob, and I believe she had some kind of an 'aha' moment or release with herself that was so powerful and was too overwhelming for her that she was embarrassed. I just simply told her that she should take that time to reflect on what good work looks like. It was such a privilege for me to have helped in that.
Another new student came in to take my class and I kept encouraging her because she never believed in herself, so I kept pushing her to try different formats, and it was a whole process. She came to the studio regularly and so I kept nudging her to open up in different ways and one day she came out of my class and expressed how much she wanted to be a teacher because of how I had changed her life and wanted to do the same for other people. All I did was give her guidance, it was that simple. I find that a lot of people don't feel encouraged or even simply held, and sometimes I’m the only one that believes in them. Sometimes my students don't ever get touched with hands, or words or anything. We just have an important role, and even though I am just a yoga instructor, I am shifting lives which is fantastic.
Can you talk a little about your life-coaching experience?
A lot of people don't really know what it is, and I have to say it's not me giving life experience advice, but it's more of an intuitive guidance. I’ve learned tools to help people get at the thoughts that consistently try to limit them. We then work on those thoughts and break them down, using techniques like a dream analysis, metaphors, or simply trying to get them out of those thoughts. It's fascinating because I never know where a session is going to lead. It overwhelms me how much progress you can make in a short period of time. You tell yourself so many thoughts in your brain and live a life in one channel of something that doesn't serve us.
Because I now live in beautiful Colorado, it is easy to get into nature so that you can explore yourself more. I would love to lead retreats in the wildnerness, and have coaching sessions. I’m also learning Chakra readings, and it would be great to bring all these things together to create an experience that is uplifting for people. I tell my clients that we all have choices and are able to curate our lives. People get stuck on particular things such as needing to make money and having to stay in a job even though they hate it. I’m the perfect example of someone who left a six-figure salary to do what I’m passionate about and found a way to make it work. There is always a way.
What do you want people to know most?
Our life is a constant project of curation and it is essential for us to recognize what fills up others and also creates something for you. I meet so many women who are especially purposeful, mindful and so independent, who can go and make something of themselves. I can survive anywhere I go, because I trust that whatever I am going to do I will make it and that is how I built businesses three times in my life. Your natural path or your true north is there as long as you continue to focus on your passion. You go through life sort of in a pinball machine where you continue to bump into the things that aren’t right for you, and move on.
When I went into yoga and life-coaching anyone who knew me from my past where I had a good important job with benefits, were almost disappointed. I would get questions even now 20 years later, like could you still go back to advertising? My answer is always, what part of I'm happy are you not understanding? They say you should be doing this or that, but everyone else's opinions have nothing to do with my path. It's hard to maintain your North Star because you have to spike away everyone else's advice that is not for you. It is almost as though they didn't take their own advice and so they are unhappy.
What does the future look like for you?
My goal this summer is to start to bring the two of my passions, life-coaching and yoga together and do retreats in the mountains on the weekends. So I have to say that this pandemic has offered me a gift of time because now I can create that clear picture of what it looks like to me, and try to make something out of this hard and unknowing time.
I've been all about transition and survival over the years and am super proud of myself. One of my greatest lessons form yoga is that things need to explode in order to come back together. Now that I am finally in a really good place, I will continue trying to feel anchored and secured and give my students an experience.