I never planned to move to New York City. But just out of college, I was offered a job as a freelance production assistant at HBO. I was a journalism major and eager to get into writing and the world of television. I took the job. The city came with it.
NYC turned out to be more perfect for me than I realized. As a young 20-something yearning for independence and anonymity, NYC gave me all of that and more. The city was abundant with opportunity and it showed me how to hustle for what I wanted. I acted. I modeled. I worked at major TV networks and on movie sets with A-list actors.
I became a New Yorker. There was nothing I loved more than speed walking down busy streets while devouring a fresh cinnamon-raisin bagel smeared with cream cheese. I couldn’t understand anyone who told me NYC wasn’t for them. Where on earth would one go outside of The City That Has It All?
Feeling stuck in the city I loved
What I did not expect was how sensitive I would become to the city as I dove more deeply into my yoga practice. I had been doing yoga since my senior year of high school and made sure to keep up a regular practice. I was on my mat no fewer than three times a week.
A voice that kept getting louder in my head told me to leave the corporate grind and pursue yoga full time. I listened, took a risk, and never looked back. Before long, I was teaching for a major online yoga platform, presenting at big yoga festivals, traveling the world as a global ambassador for a yoga-apparel brand, and appearing on popular podcasts. My face was on magazine covers, including Yoga Journal (twice!).
My yoga career was booming but my soul was tired. I wasn’t feeling aligned in my truth or power. And New York was exhausting. The late nights and loud sounds, the sketchy subway, the smells, the rush, the dirt and grime, the lack of nature. I could hardly find a spot to sit outside and eat in peace in between classes and appointments.
It wasn’t just the city. I was in an abusive relationship. And I had started to feel tokenized as a Black woman in the increasingly capitalistic world of yoga.
Each time I traveled abroad, I became more and more reluctant to return to the city. I felt stuck and blamed myself, thinking that if I became more disciplined with my practice, maybe New York wouldn’t drain me so much.
Learning to trusting my intuition
Then my father passed away from a sudden diagnosis of stage-four brain cancer. My hand was on his heart when he took his last breath. This monumental experience shifted my entire perspective on life. Life felt incredibly tender. I ended an abusive relationship. I started to feel tokenized as a Black woman in the increasingly capitalistic world of yoga. Everything I thought I knew was shifting. I was craving a pause in order to process my emotions and heal.
The first step, for me, was to sit in meditation and listen for guidance. My introduction to mindfulness practice came to me in the form of the book True Love by the late and honorable Thich Nhat Hanh. The pages illuminated the fact that although suffering is a normal part of the human experience, there are tools to find peace in the present moment. The book changed my life. Now, as I sat, I was able to witness both the fear of the unknown and the hope that the best was yet to come.
Sitting, I remembered the times I used to backpack through warm countries for the winter months. I’d sublet my apartment, put my things in storage, and sub out my yoga classes so I could be free to see the world. I realized that I could do that again—and do some healing along the way.
I listened to my inner voice and decided to visit a friend on the island of Grenada. Without judging my decision, I booked a one-way ticket.
Sitting in mediation looking for answers within
I had assumed that I’d only be there for the winter, but a month into my trip COVID struck. The pandemic shook the world and I was forced to sit and become the witness to new fears.
The US Embassy was calling all American citizens to return home immediately or be stuck abroad for an unforeseeable amount of time. I had to choose: stay on the island, not knowing how the country’s health infrastructure would handle the pandemic, or head back to the States.
For a little bit I freaked out. I called people close to me for advice. Then decided to sit with myself in meditation. I needed the answer to come from within. After meditating and asking for insight and then sitting some more to connect with my intuition, I chose to stay in Grenada to weather this new storm.
I didn’t know how much my soul needed soothing
Grenada is a place where people retire. It’s no wonder. This is a place that fosters community and healthy living. Instead of sirens, I heard birds chirping. Instead of the odor of trash, I got to smell fresh flowers. Concrete was replaced with white sand and I traded puffy coats for puffy clouds. Each time I stepped into the ocean, the buoyant, salty waters that surround the small but mighty country held me like the spirits of my ancestors. The sound of the rain grounded me. The warm night breeze wrapped me in an embrace that felt like the purest love.
And the island was filled with people who looked just like me. It’s hard to put into words what seeing this kind of reflection of yourself does to your body on both a cellular and spiritual level. I was living in an environment that soothed my soul in ways that I didn’t know I needed.
Saying no to fear; saying yes to life
Months passed. Then a year. Now, after nearly three years of living on this island, I can say that I have never felt more at home.
Grenada forced me to slow down. I was able to get clear about how I wanted to move forward with my yoga work. I could no longer tolerate being exploited by companies for their profit and not mine. Now, I am the creator and owner of my work, sharing practices on a global level. My career is birthing opportunities that I had dreamt about.
If it had been solely up to me, I would not have left New York for island life. I feel like my unexpected move to the island was the result of divine intervention. I like to think that perhaps my father had something to do with it. (He never liked NYC.) Perhaps he knew that I needed to rest and reflect and heal in a way I could not have given myself.
I bow deeply to the voice within that has guided me to this very moment. To my ancestry and my father; to the practice of letting go in order to create space for what the soul desires. Had I not listened to my intuition, who knows what life would look like. Yes, there have been sacrifices. It’s not easy to pause and course-correct. I learned that when you trust your gut—even if others think you are insane—you will be rewarded. When you say yes to life and take a risk, life will say yes to you. Now I know we are always being heard. We have to make sure we are listening for the answers.
Sara Clark is an EYT 500-hour certified vinyasa and mindfulness teacher who has been practicing vinyasa flow and meditation for over two decades. She leads workshops and retreats around the world. Find her on Instagram @saraclarkyoga