About one year ago, I witnessed a brave act that I’ll never forget.
While attending my regular vinyasa practice at Yoga Soup taught by Lauren Hopper, whose class I’ve taken since 2014, I noticed she was wearing a DUI ankle bracelet. She could have worn long pants, or found a way to disguise the bracelet. But instead, she openly displayed it in front of everyone in the studio.
She then spoke with an honesty I’ve rarely observed, sharing with us the mistakes she’s made in her life and how she’s making amends. I was deeply moved by her frankness and vulnerability. She’s one of the best yoga teachers I’ve ever had, but that day she taught me so much more.
“Now I can speak from a healthy place,” Lauren tells me over breakfast about her journey. “Everyday I’m growing into a place as a healthy teacher. I give people a practice that helps them feel comfortable with themselves, for that’s something I’ve had to work on and experienced first hand.”
Lauren understood that unless she authentically transformed herself, she couldn’t teach others. “Otherwise I would feel like a fraud,” she says.
Lauren was born and raised in Idyllwild, California. Because of physical illness in her family, there was “too much sadness at home.” She started working at a hair salon when she was 11 years old. “I was drinking heavily as a teenager,” she admits. “I was a functioning alcoholic. I was drinking seven days a week.”
She graduated with a 4.2 grade point average and honors from high school. But instead of pursuing college, she worked at an Italian social club called Café Aroma. “I didn’t have the interest to go to college,” she says. “I’d been working for so long and had planned to travel since I was 14.”
When she was 21, Lauren traveled to Europe and backpacked for three months. But when she returned, she felt that the walls were closing in on her. “I was looking for somebody to help me,” she explains. “I knew I needed help but I didn’t know how to help myself.” In November 2012, a friend invited her to come to Santa Barbara. She started working at Holdren’s Steakhouse two weeks later.
She soon met Nick Collert who brought her to the Power of Om Yoga Center and convinced her to take a class. “In my adult life, it was the first time I’d taken up a practice of any kind,” she shares.
Lauren was just 21 when she got her first DUI. “You don’t grasp the repercussions,” she confesses. “I was dissociated. I never felt worthy of my health, nor my healing. I didn’t think I was good enough.”
In 2013, she googled “yoga teacher training” and found Frog Lotus Yoga in the South of Spain, where she trained for a month. “It opened my eyes and my heart to what yoga was all about,” she confides.
She came back to Santa Barbara and started teaching at the Power of Your Om. “I hadn’t been practicing for a year and now I’m a teacher,” explains Lauren, who started at Yoga Soup in 2014. Her classes were so small at first. I know because I was there, but I loved Lauren’s passion and sense of authenticity. She explains, “I found my voice. I found my offering and what matters to me.”
But then Lauren got a second DUI. “I felt like I was cleaning after a sloppy younger sister,” she says with frustration. “It got to a point I didn’t think I would take myself seriously if I continued drinking.”
In 2017, she did a 300-hour teacher training in India at the Sativa Yoga Academy. This experience gave her a lot of confidence. “I realized a lot about myself,” she says, “and started breaking away from my old patterns. “
Now sober and healthy, Lauren is by far one of the best yoga teachers in Santa Barbara. Her classes are challenging yet full of wisdom, with great music and a sense of humor that is disarming. There is a lightness of being comfortable in her own skin that emanates from her.
“It’s important to have a laugh while practicing yoga,” she believes. “It’s essential not to take yourself so seriously and to not stand in your own way. I give the students the freedom to find their own inner intelligence about their bodies. It’s impossible to imagine my life without yoga, for it saved my life.”
Lauren Hopper answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your current state of mind?
Willing to see what I’ve missed. I’ve experienced a medley of growth and death and grief and love and joy over the last couple of years, I’m stewing in the melting pot right now, breathing into the waves — the ones that come rolling in smoothly and the set that comes crashing directly after.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My 13-year-old niece Guinevere came to stay with me over her summer vacation. We went to the beach most days. I took her to the farmers market one afternoon and to a sound healing at Yoga Soup one night. We shared deep conversation evenings over pizza and pasta when we weren’t watching her favorite TV drama.
I don’t see her often so it was special to be with her, just the two of us like that, and I can’t say that I would have been a great role model in the past for her as I still had too much to work out myself. But I felt authentically like a really good influence for her this time around, that I’ve lived through enough and come out of enough standing taller than when I entered to know what I’m talking about and that I now have something of lasting significance to offer her.
She’s 13 so I’m sure she tossed my words of wisdom out the window a week later. But she did tell my sister that it was one of the best trips of her 13 years of life and that she wants to come back. I’d call that quite an achievement.
What do you like most about your job?
My students and all that they teach me. I love getting to offer a practice and some of what’s helped me to grow and heal along my journey, but really I learn so much from my students in what they share, they inspire me always. We grow together.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A simple life, with enough to share. Enough wealth to open my pantry to those passing through who are hungry, health enough to climb mountains with my friends and to swim in the ocean with my love and to dance with my father and to jump on trampolines with my nieces and nephews, time enough to tell the people I love how much they mean to me, belief in myself enough to fully recognize and offer my gifts.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing the people I love most.
Who do you most admire?
My childhood best friend, Richelle Gribble, who taught me how to use a glue gun when we were five and grew up to be a very talented visual artist currently based in L.A. She’s been chasing her dreams since we were on the playground with a steadfast dedication that always elevated and inspired me to be better and do better.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Food and coffee or coffee and food.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Someone who can listen, not only hear.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Wish for us all that we were less susceptible to fear.
What do you most value in friends?
I like friends who say “great, me too” after you call to say that you’re too exhausted to do dinner tonight.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My therapist said I was born without the judgement gene. That might be going too far, but, like my mother, I tend to open my arms to all, accept you whoever you are with whatever you’re carrying.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Maybe maybe maybe.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Woodworking. So far I’ve built a stool and a bigger stool.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My fear of change.
Where would you most like to live?
On a lake in New Hampshire or Maine through the summer, the south of France in my dreams, here in Santa Barbara the rest of the year.
What is your most treasured possession?
An old melted fork with a key ring on it that my grandmother carried with her for years, the one thing of hers I wanted when she passed.
Who makes you laugh the most?
Eddie Ellner and his cats.
What is your motto?
Things are challenging, not hard.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I want to say Patti Smith but really I think I just adore her more than I identify with her. More realistically I probably identify with E.T. — a little lost and looking for my way home. Yoga helps.
On what occasion do you lie?
When my thinking gets clouded because I’m moving too fast and I lose touch with my body and the present moment, when I move into reaction because I haven’t allowed myself space to process and feel then need to come up with an answer or solution or fix on the spot.