Young Change Makers: Why and How Lily Allen-Duenas of the Wild Yoga Tribe Is Helping To Change Our World
Move towards, rather than away. It’s all too easy to seek an escape route. To want to run away and hide from whatever is troubling you or from whatever is difficult. Instead, if you can move towards the place of discomfort you give it more space. With more space, comes a loosening, a softening — space to breathe. If you can let go of your mental engaging, your mental fighting with the pain or discomfort, whether it is emotional pain, physical pain, or mental pain, then you can be with your suffering. By stopping the cycle of aversion and running and fighting, it will decrease and dissolve. This is the most miraculous thing! I could only learn it once I practiced it.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lily Allen-Duenas.
Lily Allen-Duenas is an international yoga teacher, meditation guide, vegan nutritionist, and holistic health and wellness coach. She helps overwhelmed individuals reduce their emotional overload, and find balance, breath, and space for self-care. Lily is the founder of the Wild Yoga Tribe and is the host of the Wild Yoga Tribe podcast. Her journey has led her to a life of flexibility, fluidity, and has fostered a vast reservoir of compassion, curiosity, and creativity.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Thank you! Happy to be here with you. I grew up in Northern California in Sonoma County. It’s about an hour north of San Francisco and in the middle of California’s wine country. My father is a musician and my mother was the CFO of a winery in Napa. I had one younger brother, just two years younger than me. When I was probably around five years old, my father told me that if I wanted to be an astronaut I had to eat all my salmon. I didn’t like salmon, and I never dreamt of being an astronaut. Yet, I certainly didn’t want any options taken away from me. I didn’t want to be limited in any way, so I ate my salmon right on up.
I grew up very headstrong, independent, and developed into a sensitive, highly emotionally aware young adult. My mother made it clear that compassion was the most important thing you can offer those around you. She taught me that the waitress who was rude was probably having a tough time at home, or that the boy who was mean to me had parents who were going through a divorce. My mom reminded me over and over and over again that everyone has struggles, suffering, and stories and we have no idea the breadth or depth of.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Starting at age five or six, and continuing on for a decade or so, I had weekly art and drawing classes at Monart School of the Arts. If you’re unfamiliar with Monart, it was founded by Mona Brookes in 1979 as a Monart Method training students to perceive five basic elements of “shape families” to be able to draw anything and everything.
The heart of the Monart method is that there are no such things as mistakes. Even if I accidentally dragged my pen halfway across the page, we’d turn it into a tree, or into something else to fit the scene. My mother always says that she could drop me off at Monart in the rottenest and sourest of moods, and I would come out transformed — calm, peaceful, and content.
Before the class began, we always did about five minutes of guided meditation and then proceeded with the drawing lesson. There was no such thing as “good” or “bad” at art, and since there were no “mistakes” there was nothing to worry about, only things to learn from and learn how to turn into beautiful things. I found my Monart classes to be space to decompress, to feel safe to not be “perfect.” In fact, there is no such thing as “perfect” in Monart! These are the lessons that I carry with me today.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Of course, there are so many possible explanations and meanings for making a difference. It’s unique, situational, and responsive to each person and situation. For me, making a difference means helping others. That’s broad, isn’t it? Making a difference means helping others to help themselves, to empower them to find new perspectives and ways at looking at their internal and external landscape. It’s about being there and being present.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I’m the founder of the Wild Yoga Tribe and the host of the Wild Yoga Tribe Podcast. The Wild Yoga Tribe’s mission is to shine a light on the global yoga ecosystem and all the interconnected aspects of the path of yoga while helping others on their path on wellness and wholeness. That is my own personal mission as well, to play a role — no matter how big or small — in guiding others towards healing, compassion, wellness and wholeness. I want to empower others to make aligned choices and take aligned action towards self-growth and self-care. I believe that perspective is key. And developing tools to garner and gain self-awareness is vital on our paths.
Through my podcast, my website and blog, and my offerings I endeavor to help — can I put it as simply as that? I want to help others discover their own power, heal, and build resilience from a breakdown all the way to a breakthrough.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
The backstory? I feel like my whole life is the backstory. From the way my mind works, to my self-talk habits, to my academics, sports, friendships, therapy and more — it’s all led me to precisely where I am today.
Perhaps, something more specific? I’ve hit rock bottom myself. I’ve been overworked, underappreciated, and burnout at work all while feeling trapped in a difficult relationship with a difficult man. I know exactly how it feels to feel powerless, insecure, and broken. It took courage, and learning a lot of tools in therapy and through books to exit my situation and, metaphorically speaking, burn and build again. I had to lead into my pain to really get through it — and to make sure that I learned all the lessons I needed to, to never repeat my mistakes, and to, maybe one day, guide others through their own breakdowns towards their breakthroughs.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
It actually was in savasana! If you’re not familiar with savasana, it’s the final resting pose in a yoga class that is called “corpse pose” as you lay on your back on your mat with your eyes closed to seal in the benefits of the practice. I was just finishing up a hot yoga class and I felt this voice rise up inside of me and say, “You are meant to be a yoga teacher, to illuminate this path for others.” Within two weeks, I researched yoga teacher trainings in India and Nepal, requested and got a one month sabbatical approved from work, and had a plane ticket booked to Kathmandu!
Throughout my time healing and leaning into my transition I wanted nothing more than to run away from my problems, pack a suitcase and run! I knew that rash decisions wouldn’t lead me to happiness. If I wanted to make my next step the best step, then I had to slow down and really listen to my own inner wisdom. All the answers that I’m searching for are already inside of me! It took nearly a year after my breakup to hear the answer to my question, “What is my purpose?” Once I had heard the answer resounding inside of me, I knew I had to listen. It was time.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I was fortunate that I had years of marketing management experience under my belt, and was used to wearing many metaphorical hats, as I formulated my plan to start the Wild Yoga Tribe. I think the first step was to decide on a name, make a website, secure the social media handles, and start writing and designing! From there, over the years, it’s organically grown to respond to the needs of my community and in response to the trainings and certification programs I’ve completed as well.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Being able to travel the world and teach yoga and meditation to beautiful souls has been the biggest gift of launching the Wild Yoga Tribe. I have had the joy of teaching students from all walks of life from different countries from around the world!
The story that stands out right now, is teaching a yoga class to someone who didn’t speak a word of English! It was a spontaneous private yoga class with the dishwasher at the island resort in Cambodia that I was working at. His name was Tom Tom and he couldn’t have been older than fourteen or fifteen. We placed his mat parallel and very close to mine. By making swooshing and swishing noises with my breath, I guided him through a slow vinyasa flow and he was so intuitive and intentional with his movements without any other guidance or previous exposure to yoga. It was an extraordinary experience to witness how yoga transcends the mind and can flow practically organically through the body.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I don’t think there are any such things as mistakes. Just growth opportunities and learning experiences.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I was very fortunate to have wonderful friends and family to support me on this journey, to offer encouragement, wisdom, and guidance when I needed it. I feel like I have a thousand stories of kind souls who spoke words that changed my heart, my perspective, and my life.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
It was a couple years ago that I was teaching at a Wellness Center with a class of students who had rare autoimmune disorders. I will never forget how these students moved through the class, the look on their faces as calm and ease flowed through their bodies, the way their smiles would soften as the minutes passed by. After the classes would finish, students would come speak to me one-on-one and tell me how much relief from pain they felt from the class, how much of their burden felt lifted. I vividly remember a woman, who had just gone through a difficult divorce while struggling with crippling sciatic and an autoimmune disorder all at the same time told me her story. She stayed late and shared with me all she had been going through, as if I was a dear friend of hers, and then told me “I used to practice yoga long ago, long before all this. It’s been years since I’ve been on my yoga mat. Your class healed me. It reminded me that I can do this and I need to do this.”
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
My! What a big question! Of course, there is a lot of work that we can do as a community and as a society to address chronic stress, mental health, and the normalization of overworking, throwing ourselves into other things — work, family, to-do lists — all while losing ourselves. We need to stop celebrating selflessness as a way of being, self-care isn’t selfish. And being selfless means losing yourself. It translates to without-self, or to be precise the root -less means “lacking, cannot be, does not.” This means that to be selfless means that you cannot be yourself. We need to be very careful, as a community, to not support or follow constructs that revere selflessness as a gold standard for what it means to be a parent or a partner.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that I would love it if we started including yoga and meditation as part of elementary education. The benefits for our society as a whole would be immense!
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Always start with compassion. Compassion comes first. If you approach every situation from a compassionate place, you will find the whole world a softer space to exist. When I was a little girl, whenever I complained about how mean someone was to me whether it was a teacher, a fellow child, or a sports coach my mother would come to their rescue instead of mine. She would explain to me that maybe they were really struggling with something at home, maybe they had a tummy ache, or maybe their dog just died that very morning. My mom always offered up lots of possibilities for why others were acting the way they did. She taught me that instead of getting angry or upset, I should pause and take a moment to look at the person from a place of compassion. I still do this every time I feel frustration arising!
- Rushing only makes you better at rushing. I used to feel very reactive to situations — like I’d want to jump in, fix things, make my point, react fast! I used to prioritize doing things as quickly as possible. Patience is still something I work on every day. Imagine you’re on a walk. Are you on the phone? Are you listening to a podcast? Imagine you are brushing your teeth. Are you answering emails? I used to feel this pressure to not “waste time.” The quotes there are important to make note of! I learned, too late in life, that if you’re always rushing, you’re only going to get better at rushing. It’s in pausing, taking your time, being present in the moment that you really find calm and ease. Whenever I’m trying to do five things at once, I just end up feeling emotionally dizzy and all in a tizzy — stressed and jittery. Now, I do my best to take things slowly, and to appreciate how things feel, to see deeply into the gifts of the present moment, and feel gratitude for it all.
- How you love yourself is how you will love others. Ah! This one might be the most tricky of all. I used to believe that if I poured all my love and energy into others, then I would feel a warm glow of love that would be big and bright enough to help me love myself. Alas, that’s not how it works. You have to cultivate a loving relationship with yourself, before you can really love others in the way they deserve. If you don’t love yourself, then you’ll suffer from things like negative self-talk, self-doubt, anxious attachment issues, etc. A healthy relationship with yourself leads you to have a healthy relationship with others. It’s the biggest key.
- Don’t take anything personally. This is my favorite of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements — don’t take anything personally. I used to place a lot of weight on what people thought of me, and particularly what others said about me. My friends in high school always described me as “the sensitive one,” as I was prone to spiraling out of control when someone said something harsh or critical to me. It took me years to realize that whatever people say is merely a reflection of themselves, and has nothing to do with you. This is reflected in Buddhism as well, the mind is a mirror. It doesn’t do anything. We determine what we are going to do with the space, whatever arises in the mind is not the mind itself. When we accept whatever others tell us, we are essentially accepting a delusion, a deception.
- Move towards, rather than away. It’s all too easy to seek an escape route. To want to run away and hide from whatever is troubling you or from whatever is difficult. Instead, if you can move towards the place of discomfort you give it more space. With more space, comes a loosening, a softening — space to breathe. If you can let go of your mental engaging, your mental fighting with the pain or discomfort, whether it is emotional pain, physical pain, or mental pain, then you can be with your suffering. By stopping the cycle of aversion and running and fighting, it will decrease and dissolve. This is the most miraculous thing! I could only learn it once I practiced it.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Just like the two wings of a bird, compassion and wisdom will set you free. By wisdom, I mean clear seeing — seeing yourself and the world with true clarity. This takes a lot of work and effort to dig into. It takes moving towards instead of moving away, or even moving against. If you dedicate your time and energy towards making a positive impact then you will find meaning and purpose in life. It will help you wake up in the morning feeling lighter and brighter, and fall asleep at night with more ease. For me, helping others towards wellness and wholeness is the greatest gift of all.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to share a meal with Anne Lamott. She’s a firecracker and a wise, wise woman. I’ve listened to nearly all her books, multiple times, and find such solace, encouragement, and beauty in her words. Her empathetic capacity never ceases to amaze me.
How can our readers follow you online?
Spotify Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/show/7oqRa3tFNTmCh6tBwxRt6Z
Insight Timer: https://insig.ht/6gFTaXHlogb
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
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