Ellen & Alissa
“At least once a week, one of the teachers would say to me, ‘Ellen, that was really good!’”
Isn’t it amazing what five little words can do? For Ellen Kepas, this one sentence was fuel. It helped propel her from Back Row Joe, where she hid in the corner, to one who now takes a place at the front of each Bikram Yoga class she attends.
You see, like so many, Ellen struggled in the confidence department. For more than a decade, she basically hid from life, rarely leaving her home any more than was absolutely necessary. She was overweight and simply didn’t feel secure in her own skin. More than that, she didn’t feel well. The weight weighed on her, mind, body, and spirit.
“For the past 10-15 years, I just really didn’t go a lot of places or do a lot of things,” Ellen said. “I never felt well. I was always tired. I just kind of felt sick all the time—not well enough to really do anything. That held me back.”
Then, 2 1/2 years ago, life as Ellen knew it changed. Alas, not for the better. Her son became a paraplegic in an attempt to take his own life. Such devastation and turmoil would be enough to make any mama feel at a loss in life. In response, Ellen turned to food. Her weight continued to climb.
Enter Ellen’s daughter, Alissa—a dedicated yogi who takes her practice seriously. Seeing her sweet mom’s struggle, she encouraged her to join her for a Bikram Yoga session. For years, Ellen declined the invitation.
It wasn’t until Ellen took matters into her own hands and started a weight loss program that she finally found the courage needed to accept Alissa’s invitation. At 30 pounds lost, she had the slight confidence boost she needed. It was enough to get her in the door… barely. Ellen established a place for herself in the back corner.
“I’m shy by nature until people get to know me. I tend to hang back in everything I do when I first begin. When I first started going to yoga, I was always on the back row in the back corner. I didn’t want to be noticed.”
The insecurity Ellen felt was so powerful she wouldn’t even attend class if Alissa wasn’t by her side, until…
“One day, Alissa had something come up and couldn’t go to yoga, and I remember being devastated. It was at that moment I thought, ‘'You can do this. You’re losing this weight. You can go alone!’ I realized I was confident enough to do this on my own. It was a turning point.”
Ellen credits much of that confidence to her progress, but also to the incredibly supportive Bikram Yoga community and instructors.
“All of the teachers are so kind and accepting. They make you feel like you're one of the group, no matter who you are, what you look like, or how much experience you have. I wasn't very flexible, but the teachers always encouraged me. At least once a week, one of the teachers would say, 'Ellen, that was really good!' This made a huge impact! Especially where I'm not big in the confidence department."
Just as the Stretch Yourself Challenge was kicking off, Ellen noticed a slowing in her progress. She felt internal distractions were to blame.
“As I practiced, I noticed different poses that were hard for me, or my mind would wander… Ultimately, I was distracted and still felt uncomfortable in a lot of ways.”
As Ellen came to this realization, she shared her concerns with Charese. Charese responded by suggesting Ellen move to the front of the room, where she could see herself more clearly in the mirror and focus more closely on her form. Inspired by Charese’s words and the messaging behind the Stretch Yourself Challenge, Ellen knew it was time to come out of her newfound back-row comfort zone and take a spot at the front.
“Being up front helps me stay focused. It stretches me to be brave where I’m not naturally a brave person. So I will stay where I am. I already see how it’s helping me. I have become more flexible. There were poses I was having the hardest time with. The camel pose… every time I’d try it, I’d psych myself out. Since moving to the front, I'm finally able to do it and other challenging poses I had been holding back on before. I still have a long way to go, but I’m improving.”
Joanne and the other instructors whole heartedly agree that Ellen is making tremendous strides.
“Ellen started her Bikram Yoga journey quietly in the back row,” Joanne said. “Watching her grow with such determination has been incredible. She’s now on the front row and has such light in her eyes. She’s an inspiration to many!”
An inspiration, indeed. As is Alissa, for being such a source of encouragement and strength for her mom. She saw Ellen’s potential long before Ellen saw it for herself. There’s something magical about the mother/child bond, and as we approach Mother’s Day, we’re sure thankful for this inspiring mother/daughter story!
Since starting Bikram Yoga in October, Ellen has lost 70 pounds (and 102 total pounds since setting out on her journey to reclaim her life!). What a remarkable transformation! It brings with it a new sense of calm and confidence. This doesn’t mean every day is easy or that Ellen doesn’t still encounter self doubt, but she does feel better equipped to cope. Perhaps the most noteworthy part of this amazing evolution is Ellen’s newfound approach to life. She went from hiding away, letting the days and years pass her by, to fully living. With that, her initial intimidation has blossomed into a deep appreciation for Bikram Yoga and those who make up its community.
“I can’t imagine not having yoga. We’re going on vacation in the summer and I’m kind of freaking out. Bikram Yoga is such a part of my life that I don’t want to miss it. The people here, even those I don’t know but see regularly… I feel like I’m coming home to family now. That’s how yoga is for me.”